As I’m writing this, Polar explorers Børge Ousland and Mike Horn are out on the Arctic ocean, struggling against the elements in what seems from the outside to be one of their hardest expeditions, yet. I am following the expedition with great interest. In a recent post, Børge explains how Mike broke off a chunk of a tooth on a frozen chocolate bar, which reminded me of my own experience with this issue and one of my favourite lifesavers.
Breaking off a tooth on frozen snacks seems to be one of the lesser-known dangers of polar exploration. Besides Mike Horn now, Henry Worsley immediately comes to mind, as does Masatatsu Abe. I am sure there are countless others. When talking to Polar guides about the top reasons for evacuation, dental issues seem to rank pretty high on the list*. If I remember correctly, someone told me that Lou Rudd had a bad tooth pulled entirely before his Antarctica traverse last year to avoid suffering the same fate.
*Disclaimer: this comes from a few informal talks I had, I did not fact-check that statement
Now my poison is not chocolate, but I love Haribos. They’re my morale supply during tough times. As I unfortunately discovered during a training expedition near Haugastøl, they also tend to get rock hard when frozen. And if you try to chew them, they soften up a bit becoming sticky like glue. In other words, I bit one, which loosened a filling, which then stuck to the thing and came out. Tough break.
Enter the emergency dental kit. Now I know that I have pretty bad teeth, courtesy of being a teenager, who did not listen to his parents in that regard. So Lauren made me aware that having dental issues during an expedition is not ideal and that there are such things as emergency dental kits. As fate would have it, that trip was the first one we were indeed carrying one of those.
The dental kit we use consists of four mouthwash tablets, two capsules with powder to mix cement, and a stick with filling material. These can be used to either create a temporary filling or glue a lost filling, crown or cap back into place. To use it, you need hot water and a clean water container to mix the powder or prepare the temporary filling material. Instructions for both use-cases are included in the package and they are easy to follow.
So I declared Lauren my emergency field-dentist, and we got to work glueing my lost filling back into place. Aside from dropping the filling and almost losing it in the process, it worked surprisingly well. I was able to go through the remaining five days of our trip without any problems or infections, and it even lasted through another week I had to wait for my dentist to get back from vacation. So I can vouch that this cement is the real deal. Unable to make it move by pulling on it, they had to drill it out in the end.
I haven’t gone on a big trip without one of these dental kits in my first-aid pack since, and I can wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone. They weigh nothing (under 10g), but in a pinch can make the difference between having to evacuate and continuing your expedition.
We’re crossing Greenland in August 2021 to celebrate the legacy of Fridtjof Nansen as an explorer, scientist and humanitarian. We are working with the UNHCR to support their fantastic relief efforts for people who’ve been forced to flee their homes or have become stateless – causes Nansen started to fight 100 years ago.
If you liked this blog post, please consider donating towards our expedition or the UNHCR. We can’t do this without your help! Any contribution is appreciated!
Keen hiker and ÖAV trekking and hiking guide, in love with Nansen. Owner of the most walk-averse rescue dog ever. Ice cream lover, kit junkie, runner and mad software genius.