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Planes, Trains and Tooth Maladies: 6 Simple Fixes for a Toothache While You're on the Move by Plane or Train

by Danielle Fletcher

Travelling with a toothache is never nice. It's even worse when you didn't plan for it beforehand (who does?), and downright murderous if you still have several hours of your journey remaining before you can disembark and do something about the pain. On foot or by car you at least have the option of seeking out a pharmacy for some extra strong painkillers, or booking an emergency dental appointment within the hour. However, when travelling by air or rail, you have to make do with whatever is at hand. 

You might be able to ask for some paracetamol or aspirin, but they will hardly make a dent in the pain caused by a severe toothache. Combining a painkiller with a simple but effective short term pain reliever that can be found on both planes and trains is likely the best course of action. 

For flyers, it helps to be aware of the possible causes of your toothache. 

Aerodontalgia or Barodontalgia/Pressure-Tooth-Pain

Commonly referred to nowadays as "barodontalgia", which refers to a toothache caused by a change in barometric pressure (atmospheric pressure), pressure-tooth-pain was first experienced by pilots in World War II. Unfortunately, this type of toothache can rarely be alleviated by pain killers or home remedies as it is caused by air trapped within a tooth. 

How does air become trapped inside a tooth? Air can become trapped inside a tooth due to tiny cavities caused by decay, or by a faulty filling. During a plane's ascent and descent, when the barometric pressure in the cabin changes (affecting ears too), the air trapped in a tooth cannot adjust to the change in pressure, thus causing pain. 

However, if the pain is caused by tooth decay or trauma to the tooth then the following remedies; all of which may be available on a plane or train, should provide some temporary relief.

Numb the Pain with Ice or Cold Water

Place ice inside a cloth or soak a cloth in cold water, and place it on your face, on the side where the pain is. This should provide you with some temporary relief from the pain.

Ask for some Salt and Gargle the Pain Away

If salt is available, dissolve one teaspoon in a cup of warm water and gargle. This will reduce the inflammation and fight off bacteria, alleviating the pain for a while. 

Relieve the Pain with a Tea Bag

Take a warm, wet tea bag, and place it on the gum above or below the affected tooth. The tannins contained in black tea draw out toxins and soak up pus. 

Rinse Away the Pain with Alcohol

No, you're not getting drunk. This method simply involves rinsing your mouth out with alcohol, not drinking it. Something potent like neat whiskey or brandy is ideal for this. Humans have used alcohol to kill infection and numb pain for around 5,000 years

Bite Down on a Vinegar-Soaked Cotton Ball 

Vinegar has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it ideal for a toothache. Soak a cotton ball (or nearest substitute) in vinegar, place it in the affected area, and bite down on it for 1-2 minutes. The pain should soon subside, giving you some relief.  

Put Salt and Pepper on the Tooth

Salt and pepper combined can act as a potent pain reliever. While the salt kills the bacteria and reduces inflammation, the black pepper acts to alleviate the pain. Mix salt and pepper with water to create a paste, and then apply the paste to the affected tooth and the surrounding gum tissue. If the thought of putting black pepper on a toothache scares you, it should offer you some comfort to know that the Aztecs used chillies to treat toothache pain thousands of years ago!

Contact a dentist for more advice.