How to get ready for good oral health while travelling

Flight booked? Check. Hotel booked? Check. Excited for a well-deserved vacation? Check! Action plan to maintain oral health? Umm... You deserve this break. But travelling is not an excuse to let go of your healthy habits, including taking care of your oral health.

Whether you're packing a light bag for a weekend getaway or you're heading overseas for your long-awaited month-long trek across Asia, you should take a few steps to prepare for your travels.

Before you go, you may want to consider doing some of these things to ensure your mouth stays healthy while travelling:

  • Visit your dentist for a check-up. Tell your dentist that you will be travelling. If you are almost due for your check-up, it's better to go earlier so that if there are any problems, they can be resolved before you travel. (You probably don't want that loose filling to get worse!) If you're going to be away for an extended period of time, it's all the more important to have a full dental check-up before you leave.
  • Stock up on your oral hygiene supplies so that you won't run out while you're away (see below for an oral health packing checklist). You will probably be able to find the basics (toothbrush, toothpaste) wherever you're going, but you may want to bring the items you routinely use at home, especially if it took you a while to find your favourite flavour of toothpaste!
  • Make a list of credible and safe dentists or dental clinics in the place you plan to visit. If you run into a dental emergency, you want to go to a place that's reputable. Your dentist, insurance plan, the Canadian embassy, and organizations such as the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT) can help you with this.
  • Check your insurance to see if it covers dental emergencies. If you are buying travel medical insurance, find out exactly what type of coverage is in the policy.

Depending on where you go, your oral health supplies may be limited or you may not have access to the supplies you're familiar with. Here's an essential oral health packing checklist:

  • A good-sized travel container or bag that can fit all of your oral health supplies.
  • A toothbrush.
  • Toothbrush holder or carrying case. Make sure it contains holes for ventilation and water drainage.
  • Toothpaste to help protect against cavities and promote healthy gums.
  • Dental floss.
  • Mouth rinse with antibacterial properties or fluoride to help prevent gum disease.
  • Sugarless gum, for chewing after meals to increase saliva flow to help remove food particles and sugar from your mouth.
  • If you wear a retainer, headgear, mouth guard, or dentures, don't forget to pack it and the carrying case!
  • Pain killers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, just in case you get a toothache.

Keep your mouth healthy en route to your destination

You're excited for your final travel destination, but you're not looking forward to the journey there. Whether it's a 16-hour road trip or a 12-hour flight, you've got a long day ahead of you. The comforts of having a clean bathroom to take care of your oral health are probably not accessible to you. But don't fear! Here are some tips to keep your mouth healthy while en route to your travel destination.

Carry a few essential oral hygiene items in your bag or purse. You don't want to sort through your luggage just to get your toothbrush. And when you're travelling by plane, you might not even have that option if you didn't pack a carry-on. Have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss handy to keep your mouth clean and your breath fresh while you're travelling. If you're tight for space, use travel-sized items.

Use a mouth rinse for those instances when you just don't have time to do a full oral care routine. It's not a substitute for brushing and flossing, but when there's a line-up for that truck stop bathroom or the air turbulence forces you to get back to your seat on a flight, then a rinse is a quick way to freshen up your breath.

Stay away from tooth-unfriendly foods. During travel, it's likely you're straying from your usual oral care routine. Don't make things worse by eating foods that are not good for your teeth. Stay away from sugary snacks and carbonated soft drinks – bacteria from plaque use the sugar to produce acids that erode tooth enamel. When picking up your snacks for the ride, choose nuts and seeds (try sunflower or pumpkin or a handful of almonds) rather than a bag of jujubes or jelly beans.

How to maintain a healthy mouth while you're away

You've finally arrived at your destination. It's now time to relax and enjoy your vacation. But it's important to maintain your oral hygiene to keep your mouth healthy. Follow these tips to help protect your mouth from oral health problems.

Maintain your oral care routine. Being on vacation is not an excuse to slack off on taking care of your teeth. In order to keep your mouth healthy, you need to continue what you're doing at home.

  • Continue to brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and toothpaste to protect against mouth problems such as cavities, gingivitis, and tartar buildup.
  • Floss every day to remove tartar from tooth surfaces and to reach areas your toothbrush can't get to. Floss can also help against gingivitis.
  • If you're out and you can't brush your teeth after eating (especially something sweet!), then at least rinse your mouth with water to help get rid of food from your mouth.
  • If it's not safe to drink the local water, then it's likely not safe to use it for oral care either. Use bottled water or boiled water to brush your teeth and clean your toothbrush.

Keep your toothbrush clean. Take it out of its carrying case as soon as you reach your destination. Stand it upright in a cup to allow the brush to dry (wet brushes breed bacteria) and to allow the water to drain away from the bristles.

Eat teeth-friendly foods. For many, a vacation is a time for overindulgence. Try to watch what you eat and limit the amount of sugar you have.

  • Eat more foods that won't harm your teeth. These include:
    • fibre-rich fruits and vegetables (fibre helps stimulate saliva flow, which can neutralize acids and enzymes that cause tooth decay)
    • dairy products such as milk, cheese, and plain yogurt (calcium from these foods help keep teeth strong)
    • black tea and green tea (these teas contain substances that kill or inhibit bacteria found in plaque)
  • Limit foods that may harm your teeth. These include:
    • sweets, including sweet pastries, lollipops, caramel, even cough drops with sugar (sugarless ones are available!)
    • carbonated soft drinks. In addition to having high sugar content, these drinks also contain acids that erode tooth enamel.
    • starchy foods that can get stuck between your teeth, such as soft breads and potato chips
  • After eating, chew sugarless gum to increase saliva flow to help remove food particles from your mouth and to help keep teeth clean.

And remember to brush your teeth after eating. If you can't, then rinse your mouth with water after eating something sweet. You can also try eating a raw veggie or fibrous fruit (e.g., apple with the peel, after washing, of course) to help get rid of food from your mouth.