Dear Dr. D:
My little grandson is bent on a science based adventure career. He never wanted to be a cowboy or a fireman but sets his sights on being an astronaut or deep sea scientist. He recently asked me what happens when someone at the space station has a toothache? How do they prepare?
Great question! Anyone who has ever had a dental emergency knows they can occur at the most inopportune moment. We can’t think of a worse moment than being on the space station and having the opportunity of starring in your very own dental reality show about an abscess in weightlessness. Actually, quite a few people have wondered the same thing, and the European Space Agency put out a bulletin that said the major dental trauma was during lift off and landing. The body experiences G forces 4 times normal, and that it is entirely possible for ill-fitting dental work to come loose during the vibration and the stress. The astronauts must literally train for the demands of the landing as well. While brushing and flossing are undoubtedly a different type of job in outer space, they are very much a necessary daily routine. Our very own Chris Hadfield demonstrates how to brush teeth in Space (you can Google it). The diving question is more common, because of the millions of sport scuba divers around the world. Diving, even in depths of less than 100 feet which is where 98% of sport diving occurs, can be a horror store with dental problems. The problem may be a ‘vacuum’ effect the deeper you go. Much more common during descent is air entering a cavity or a filling area. Air is much less dense at depth. When one ascends, this air is trapped and expansion can cause excruciating pain for the diver. Many scuba holidays are ‘live-aboards’ which are boats that do not return to land or home base for an entire week. A diver with ‘tooth squeeze’ could have a very rough go of it. We see both sport divers and commercial divers coming in for a comprehensive checkup of old fillings and new potential problems before a trip. Symptoms after a dive can be bleeding gums, toothache, or unbelievable pain. Closer to home, we meet patients with similar isolation issues work-wise that necessitate advance planning for dentistry. Commercial fishermen, or perhaps prospectors – who may be on their own in the bush for 3 months at a time. At least in 2017 they are armed with a SAT phone. You won’t be fibbing if you tell your grandson that both his astronauts and deep sea divers must take special care of their teeth. Just like him!
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