I’m keen on realizing unrealized threats in post-apocalyptic scenarios. One of the biggest things I see overlooked all the time is dental care. Dental care is one of those essential things many people take for granted. We have dentists and commercial toothpaste and specialized toothbrushes that clean our teeth with vibrations or sound waves (or just a nifty crook in the handle). Those of us living in developed nations just don’t have to really worry about the dangers of a dental death.
Dental death is the leading cause of natural death in all primates except humans. It was likely the leading cause of natural death in humans, as well, before the invention of dental care. If society collapses and we no longer have dentists and factories producing toothpaste and toothbrushes, we’ll likely return to that time of mankind dying early of dental death.
Naturally, we have to prepare. It’s never a bad idea to have too much toothpaste or too many toothbrushes in your house. You’ll use them eventually and they don’t go bad. That’s the easy answer, though. What happens when you run out?
Not surprisingly, there are still regions of the world where dental death is a major concern. An interesting detail about tooth decay. Before Europeans came to America, some Native American tribes had surprisingly good teeth. Europeans were baffled because they battled tooth decay even in their ‘advanced’ society. It seems there is a prominent catalyst in human tooth decay: refined sugar.
Refined sugar speeds the process of tooth decay very quickly. In many modern tribal cultures, tooth decay is of little concern because they don’t eat refined sugar. Of course, tooth decay would still occur without some type of dental care. Tribes may not have dentists, but they do have oral hygiene.
Fortunately, refined sugar will be in short supply after the apocalypse. After learning this a few weeks ago, I’ve been making an effort to consume less refined sugar. It’s very hard to do that in modern America. I say, if you don’t want to visit your dentist more than you have to, stop eating sugar.
Tribes without access to modern toothpaste and tooth brushes rely on an ages-old technique for cleaning teeth: sticks. Yep, wood. No, not necessarily toothpicks. Chewing on a stick provides enough friction to remove food particles and, thus, lowering the amount of bacteria and other microbes that grow in the mouth.
There have even been recent studies that show the use of a Miswak, one type of tooth-cleaning stick popular in Islam, might even be more effective than a toothbrush. Dr. Rami Mohammed Diabi’s ”Miswak Medicine Theory” even claims that it has anti-addiction effects on tobacco smokers, as well. Sometimes the primitive way really is the best way, no matter what the pharmaceutical companies tell us.
The use of the Miswak is more wide-spread than most Americans are aware. It has widely been used on the Arabian Peninsula since the Islam prophet Muhammed recommended it. In 1986, the World Health Organization even recommended its use as a good tooth cleaner and disease deterrent. The Miswak is normally made with wood from Salvadora persica, which is known for its abrasive and antiseptic properties. Salvadora persica also contains Fluoride.
If you’d like to try using Miswaks, you can buy some from Amazon.
NOTE: Many of these tribes also have some type of alcohol which they may use often enough to kill some bacteria.
Granted, not all sticks will work well. Some woods have a chemical makeup that make them better for cleaning and protecting teeth. Some safe woods are dogwood, walnut, olive, cinnamon, Tea Tree, and Gum Tree (more safe woods can be found here). These trees, especially dogwood and walnut, are commonly found in North America. Any input on good trees in other parts of the world are welcome.
Lots of people don’t stop at brushing their teeth. What about mouthwash? Unfortunately, there’s not many natural replacements for mouthwash. The obvious answer is to use alcohol. Keep in mind to NOT use isopropyl alcohol as it would probably make you sick. Any sort of liquor 80 proof or above should work fine.
Eventually, all the alcohol on the planet that was created before the apocalypse will be gone. Everyone will be looking for it for either medical or recreational purposes. I’d be willing to guess that foraging for alcohol will be quite a dangerous task as others will be desperate to get their hands on it. Do yourself a favor: learn to distill.
Other methods for creating mouthwash do exist. You can combine a 1/4 tsp. of Baking Soda with 2 oz water for an effective mouth rinse. It will taste quite bad, so if you can find an oily plant (like mint), it could be muddled into the mixture to get a better flavor.
Cloves and rosemary can be used to create an anti-fungal, anti-viral, and antiseptic mouthwash without using alcohol. Gather some cloves and rosemary and put them in a jar. Boil water and pour it over the herbs. Steep it for a few hours (preferably 8+). Now you should have a jar of tasty, healthy mouthwash.
And, finally, what’s that one thing that the dentist keeps telling us to do but we rarely do? Flossing. Unfortunately, I can’t find much info on natural alternatives for floss so I can’t give many definite answers. Floss doesn’t take much space, so I’d recommend just getting maybe 10 or so packages and keep them in your bathroom or car. You know you’ll never use them unless the apocalypse happens, anyway.
Caring for your teeth is an important part of primate life. We’re always taught that; but we really have little perspective on just how important it is. Hopefully, I’ve provided enough information to serve as a starting point for fashioning your own green, post-apocalyptic dental care solution.
There is also an excellent book by Murray Dickinson called Where There Is No Dentist. It chronicles dental care in parts of Africa where there are no dentists. I haven’t read it but it comes highly recommended and is said to have a wealth of information for keeping your teeth clean.