My Dental Demise After the Appalachian Trail: A Cautionary Tale

ME overlooking Upper Yellowstone Falls

Hey all! Glad to be writing again. A little catch up is in order before we get started. After finishing my thru hike and leaving Maltz Jupiter Theatre in South Florida, I took a guide gig with Wilderness Inquiry: a great non-profit focusing on inclusive outdoor recreation for people of all abilities. This took me through the boundary waters,  Mississippi River, hiking in Yellowstone National Park, and so many other great places. This filled two Summers with learning, laughing, and personal growth in a great workplace. Fall, winter, and spring finds me working on the national tour of “The Wizard of Oz”, as their head electrician (my original field of study). This all adds up to roughly the last two and a half years of my life where I am today. 

Let’s Get Going

What does this update have to do with the Appalachian Trail and my teeth? Time, my friends. That is the time I didn’t spend brushing and flossing my teeth on the AT. It’s easy to do, skip brushing/flossing for a day or two. I found myself brushing only mornings when faced with big days or even a little campfire fueled debauchery the night before. Flossing? Yeah, didn’t do that, and I haven’t started regularly until very recently; that includes regular brushing and check ups too. On the AT, I was pretty haphazard with most areas concerning my mouth and the bones that protrude out of it.

This is a long winded way of me telling you my teeth are in pretty poor condition right now and it’s expensive once that’s happening to you. I don’t blame the AT, I blame myself. Sit back, relax, and learn from my idiot mistakes.

I would like to take this time to induce a trigger warning. I do mention needles, tooth injuries, and dental procedures in this thing. If that’s not your cup of tea, check out this article instead 🙂.

Who Hurt You?

 

Melanie and I posing in front of one of many Yellowstone National Park Oxbows

How does this happen? Well friends, my decline into tooth decay trepidation began April of 2018. After too few trips to the dentist post AT, I go in for a cleaning. BOOM, two cavities filled in the back of my mouth, 17 and 18, bottom left I’ve been told. To be clear, previous to this I’ve had several filled, as my X-ray shows. I was golden after that and set off for my summer gig with Wilderness Inquiry.

WI sent me to Yellowstone National Park to startup the seven day family adventure trips. I was freaking pumped to get back in the field after my first summer getting to know the area. So pumped, that at the end of the first trip of the season, I travel into Livingston, Montana to celebrate with my co-guide, Melanie Langa, in tow to get a well needed DQ m&m Blizzard. Here I sit in the driver’s seat of a 15-passenger Ford Transit van enjoying this sweet, sweet frozen moo-juice. Not even four bites in I hear a crunch (of m&m) and then a louder sharper snap in and around 17 and 18 molars. Inquisitively, I pull out a small white shard of filling and harshly exclaim, “GOD BLESS AMERICA” (actual expletive changed to protect the innocent). Not wanting to get pulled off my second trip, I ignore the small amount of pain that went with that m&m mishap and kept digging through the blizzard.

I’ve now come to realize that  Ryan Zinke, our beloved former Secretary of the Interior, planted steel m&ms in MY DQ Blizzard. This was a poor and ill thought out attempt to throw me off my game. He was trying to  prevent me from helping people enjoy their public lands in a way that isn’t extracting resources from them or selling the land they stand on, so I was much more careful after that. Don’t worry folks, he failed MISERABLY. 

Grand Prismatic Spring- Yellowstone National Park

 

Eventually, the pain subsides and I pull a larger section of the filling out on the tail end of trip 2. All is well(ish). The rest of the Summer is uneventful dental wise, I’ve forgotten all about the foreign object that was once embedded in my tooth. I finish up trips in Yellowstone, graciously passing the reins to the ever capable Melanie Langa and other guides already on trips in the park. Trouble comes in November.

IT HURTS

November comes and about half way through I get some pretty numb pain in the same teeth I so elegantly self assessed in June. I was blissfully unaware of what lied ahead waist deep in my other life of touring. The middle of November hands me several hours of frustrating conversations with my insurance company regarding my out of state need for cavity fillings. They deny my claims and I have to pay out of pocket to get the cavity filled in West Virginia (I’m an Ohio State native). The fine folks at the dentist office fill my cavity on 18, do a further X-ray and Uh-oh I need a root canal on 17. They tell me I have five other cavities, they tell me the root canal has to happen soon and they tell me it’s going to cost $2100. I get my filling and bounce. Who the actual heck has that kind of money? Not me, that’s for sure. Luckily I’m off on a personal trip to Mexico in about two weeks with a plan.

Pictured here is the ROOT of my troubles…. Seriously, this is the tooth before the Root Canal.

Now, before I go on, I bet some might ask,”Kevin, my stupid friend, couldn’t you have gone to the dentist in Livingston, Montana after your first trip? You had four days in between trips with ample time to do so”.

To that, I say yes.

Yes, I sure could have done that.

Kevin Goes to the Dentist

Two weeks go by. We have three week layoff period where we don’t have shows in the land of Oz. The first week or so I spend climbing in glorious Moab, Utah with some of the coolest people I’ve come to meet (Matti, Brian, and Julia, I’m looking at you). A quick break for family Thanksgiving, and I’m off to Mexico City. Here, I booked a smattering of touristy activities and my dental appointment to assess the damage to 17. My time in Mexico City was met with friendly locals, wonderful food, and great accommodations. Having done my research (mostly Reddit) I happened upon Ideal Dental Center.

Great place, with more than reasonable prices that are less that half of what one would pay in the states. I arrive, after slogging through the streets of CDMX on-board nothing else other than my trusty Bird Scooter. Winded from traffic, I stagger in and they get me started on X-rays and examination. Well, I need a crown to cap this thing.  Whatever, do it.

Here I am onboard the night bus to Veracruz,Mexico. If I look pained, I was.

I spend the better part of 9-hours in this dental office with some of the most kind and talented dental professionals I’ve ever had the pleasure to have in my mouth. This wasn’t all in the chair, I was to and fro from X-rays, drillings, crown fittings, and mouth guard molding. I had to have 4 lidocaine shots, the last one going into the freaking ROOT of my tooth. That initially numbed me enough for the dentist to do her work.  This appointment ran longer than I expected with the new crown I needed and I consequently missed my flight to Veracruz, my next destination. This was well worth the wake up call it gave me from my dental deviancy. After all was said and done I pay my $800 to the Dentist, and I’m on-board a night bus to Veracruz. I finish out the rest of my vacation with my friend, the excellent Megan Delwoodley (Check out her stuff here, she does great wigs by commission and can sing you into a trance). We opt for a relaxing time at the beach, ruin hopping, and sand dune cruising. All in all a great end to the trip.

Wrapping it up

What’s the take away? Avoid Dairy Queen Blizzards? Ryan Zinke is the root of all evil? Mexico answers all problems?

No. Take care of your teeth damnit. ESPECIALLY on trail. ESPECIALLY if your diet consists of  daily servings of Honey Buns and sour patch kids. My dentist recommends brushing AND flossing at LEAST twice a day on and off trail. If you’re going to be eating sweets, do it with meals or drink water afterwards. I’d now recommend cutting back on sugary candies like sour patch kids and the like. Try subbing in chocolates, dried fruits, or other things that won’t stick to your teeth while hiking.

Let’s Talk Teeth

To help everyone understand dental care on trail, I’ve conducted an interview with my friend Sean, Orthodontist Assistant of the stars.

Sean Farley- Orthodontic Assistant

Sean Farley- Orthodontic Assistant Extraordinaire

KEVIN: How can I avoid cavities while spending large amounts of time away from civilization?

SEAN: The best way to avoid cavities is to stay away from foods or drinks that are high in sugar. Another thing to try is to avoid fruits/juices that are fairly acidic.

 

KEVIN: If you had to choose between hands for feet, or feet for hands, what would you choose and why?

SEAN:  That’s easy, I’d have hands for feet. I’m jealous of our primate cousins.

 

KEVIN: Between you and me, we don’t need to floss do we? Don’t you think flossing is just a ploy from BIG FLOSS to get us to use and buy more floss?

SEAN: No, no, and NOOO! Flossing is SO important, and I can’t stress that enough. Healthy teeth and healthy gums work hand and hand. Poor oral hygiene can have serious effects on your overall health. The majority of cavities happen in between teeth as a consequence of not flossing enough. ALL of that leftover food needs to come out. “Big Floss” preaches the truth. Floss every day, you’ll be thankful you did.

 

KEVIN: Any foods that might help out with dental hygiene?

SEAN: Say CHEESE! Cheese has been found to lower the risk of tooth decay, while supplying your teeth with enamel-strengthening calcium and protein. Veggies are great for your teeth too, but I guess what I’m trying to get at is that you should find foods that are high in calcium and protein, and low in sugar. Water is important too!

 

KEVIN: Oh. Well, if I did plan on eating A LOT of sugary substances for 5-6 months; what’s the best way to keep my teeth shiny?

Chip Skylark- http://fairlyoddfanon.wikia.com/wiki/File:Chip_Skylark_Stock_Image.png

SEAN: If you want teeth like Chip Skylark, which I think we all do, be sure to rinse, brush, and floss regularly. As the old song goes,”So white and pearly. Brush, gargle, rinse, a couple breath mints, My shiny teeth and me.”

 

KEVIN: Any tips for on trail tooth injuries? Not all of us  have bags of milk at the ready when that trekking pole smashes out a front tooth.

SEAN:  This is a tough one. The very best think you can do is seek medical attention immediately to prevent further injury or infection from setting in. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but dental injuries are something to take seriously.

 

KEVIN:  Ok, how many cavities do YOU have?

SEAN: The last time I checked, which was last year, I had no cavities. A lot of my great overall dental hygiene can be credited to my parents for getting me early interceptive dental care as a child.

 

KEVIN: Those of us hikers with braces, what do you recommend for someone going on a long distance thru hike? Any tips for those that might experience discomfort or food getting stuck places?

SEAN: Those with braces know just how much normal everyday life can suck, but there are always ways to make it a little easier. The best thing you can do is to stay away from foods that are chewy, sticky, and hard. Not only do these foods break the braces, the leftovers can be a pain to fish out. The chances for the development of cavities are especially high for people with braces, so good oral hygiene is even more important. If you go to the dental aisle in just about any grocery or convenience store, there’s something called an “Interproximal Brush” and it works wonders

 

KEVIN:  Thanks for your time Sean. You’ve answered all of my questions and more! Any parting words for the kids at home?

SEAN: Any time Kevin! I’ll leave you with this great quote I’ve used over the years, “You don’t have to brush all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep.”

 


>>>HEY! While you’re here, take this time to visit THIS link to learn how to properly dispose of toothpaste spit in the backcountry. Spoiler, it’s not  in the campfire.<<<


As always, thanks for reading. Don’t forget to get out and support/visit your public lands this year. If we don’t, we’ll lose not only an important source of recreation, but we’ll lose a valuable land resource for the environment as a whole.

Edited by the illustrious Emily Arsenijevic

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Comments 17

  • Dill Waddell : Feb 6th

    Gross. Just gross. You are a grown man.
    Just sayin’

    Reply
    • Chaco : Feb 6th

      Some of its gross and some genetics. Regardless, I hope others can learn from my mistakes 🙂

      Reply
  • Trey : Feb 6th

    Really? Didn’t anyone tell you your breath was rank? I guess thru hiker BO made everyone nose blind. Dude?

    Reply
    • Chaco : Feb 6th

      You can’t tell me you’ve never skipped a day of brushing your teeth after a 30 mile day? I’m not saying I didn’t brush at all, I’m saying I was haphazard with it.

      Reply
  • Timmy the Tooth : Feb 7th

    Don’t blame the trail or hiking for your poor dental hygiene. Unless you were drinking acid rain, your teeth were already doomed and destined for decay. This isn’t even good click bait.

    Reply
    • Chaco : Feb 7th

      I’m not blaming the trail. I make it pretty clear that it’s entirely my fault due to my diet.

      Reply
  • stealthblew : Feb 7th

    It was very kind to share your experiences on the trail regarding your teeth. The interproximal brush is a wonderful recommendation and may help countless hikers avoid the slippery slope of dental decay.

    Great tip for future long distance hikers.

    Reply
    • Kevin Arsenijevic : Feb 7th

      Well thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  • Steff : Feb 7th

    I don’t get all the negative comments on this one, it certainly might help some future thru-hikers. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • Odie : Feb 7th

    Many of my trail friends had cavities after the trail, and my gums started receding after the amount of sugar I ate. You are not alone and I think its great that you shed some light on this subject.

    Reply
  • Tess : Feb 8th

    Hey Dude–avoid dried fruits on the trail. Yeah, I know it’s fruit–but the drying only concentrates the sugar. Raisins are the WORST offender. (Doubt that? Brush and then floss and see what comes outta yo’ mouth!) Treat dried fruit as candy and brush and floss post haste! Best wishes for happy trails!

    Reply
    • Chaco : Feb 8th

      Thanks for the tip man 🙂

      Reply
  • solstar : Feb 8th

    Ouch – hope you have dental insurance — brush every day maybe more than once sad face

    Reply

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