Q&A With Dr Emma
Hi Dr Emma, what happens if you lose a filling but you're on a remote site, 4000km from your Perth dentist? Is there a temporary DIY fix? @redbuckwa via Twitter
DIY dentistry is rarely a good idea, though there are certain occasions where you may be able to do something temporarily until you're able to see a dentist. By temporarily, I mean a matter of a couple of weeks at the most, and there are only certain situations where a DIY fix will be useful.
Firstly I'd like to put on my nagging dentist hat and stress the importance of prevention. If you work FIFO, (fly-in, fly-out for those not in the know), you need to be on top of your health. Don't wait for a problem before you go and see a dentist. If you attend for your regular check-ups you can minimise the risk of a problem going undetected and cropping up while you're away. I swear some teeth have access to a calendar and plot to irritate their hosts, as things always seem to go wrong the Friday afternoon before a long weekend!
Secondly, you need to think about why a filling might fall out. Sound fillings don't just drop out of teeth. There's usually another underlying problem which has caused the filling to be lost, such as decay or a crack in the tooth. I don't like the word "filling" much, to me it implies you're just filling up a hole. The more correct term is "restoration", (e.g. "I went to the dentist today and had 4 restorations done"). A restoration involves treating the problem and restoring the tooth's health and function.
So what can you do? You could use a commercially available temporary filling material to plug the hole left by a lost restoration; there are a few products available to the public on the online market. If you are in pain, simply filling the cavity won't help. All it will do is fill up the hole so you don't get food stuck in it. If there are sharp edges irritating your tongue or cheeks then a temporary filling material may help as well.
If you have more than a mild amount of pain, any pus draining into your mouth, or any swelling, then it's time to get back to civilisation ASAP. Don't compromise your health or risk doing more damage by attempting to be Dr MacGyver.