What To Do When Your Teeth Get Knocked Out Because You Fell Clipping With the Rope in Your Mouth

If I’ve learned one thing in climbing, it’s anything that can happen will happen. And so I try to plan accordingly. For example, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve pulled a rope through the chains after rappelling or lowering, and the end arrived to the ground tied in a perfect figure 8. I’ve heard scary stories for years about how if you have too good of a fingerlock and your feet slip your finger could get ripped off, and like everyone else I was sure it was really impossible…until it actually happened to a climber last season on “Fingers in a Lightsocket” (of all routes) at Supercrack Buttress.

My dental hygienist is a climber (it’s Moab, of course she is), and when I went in to get my teeth cleaned today and was stuck there unable to do anything except make horrified exclamation sounds, she told me this crazy tale of how 3 of her front teeth were knocked out three weeks ago because she took a lead fall while trying to clip, with the rope in her mouth, on “Three Strikes And You’re Out” (of all routes) at Battle of the Bulge. Since she had all her front teeth, I was obviously very confused by the story. She went on to explain that she conveniently knew exactly what to do in that situation, and this is valuable information I think everyone ought to know! (I mean what are the odds of the climber this happens to being a dental hygienist who knows exactly the right thing to do in what turns out to be a highly time sensitive situation? So it was super unlucky, but also pretty darn lucky, from my point of view.) And a quick google search revealed this kind of thing CAN and WILL happen.

After she decked onto the ledge, she discovered that her two front teeth had been yanked out to a horizontal position and the one next to them was actually out and in her mouth. !!!!!

So the valuable information is: apparently you have 20 minutes after a tooth comes out from the roots to get it back in place. If it’s back in place in less than 20 minutes, there’s an extremely high chance that the roots will heal back into place and the tooth won’t die. After 20 minutes up to an hour, the chances are pretty good but not as good. After an hour, no chance, your tooth is gone.

But there’s more….

When you put the teeth back into place, you don’t want to touch the roots ever: first of all, there’s a delicate mesh or web or something like that around the roots (she compared it to butterfly wings) that will be damaged if you touch it, and then the tooth will die. So if the tooth is out and on the ground and it looks dirty, see if anyone has saline solution that you can squirt on the roots to clean it. Failing that, pour some water on the roots. But don’t touch the roots! In this case, you are definitely going to need antibiotics later–there’s a really high chance of infection and especially with this being part of your head, you are going to have to take precautions. But these are later problems.

Secondly, when you do put the teeth back in place, however you put them is how they’re going to stay! Apparently some people have been so flustered they shoved the tooth in backward. Well, it stays backward. Same goes for crooked, or uneven. Try to do a nice job.

My hygienist, knowing all this, immediately put her teeth back in place and carefully lined them up and set them nice and snug before her gums started swelling. Then she drove straight back to Moab and went to the dentist (to get antibiotics and some actual medical care). Now, 3 weeks, later, it looks like nothing ever happened. Had she not put the teeth back in place, she’d be out 3 front teeth right now and getting some super expensive dental work (though she does get a discount).

Hopefully you never take a fall and knock out your teeth while in the backcountry, but if you do, just remember these few things: don’t touch the roots, if you have to rinse them do it with saline solution or water, set them back in place as soon as possible and do it nice! and get thee to the dentist asap.

other small advice is:
try not to put the rope in your mouth when clipping, or at least try to do it less. if you do:
try really hard not to fall right then. if you do:
try to scream instead of biting the rope 🙂


  • Abbi Hearne

    I think I heard about this! We were talking about the irony of a dental hygienist missing 3 front teeth. But how amazing that she knew what to do and was able to save them!! This is great to know.

  • Robbie

    I once knocked out a tooth and out of half panic half desperation I pushed it back into place. 12 years later I still have all my teath.

  • Hartmann

    too bad mine split in half

  • Horatio Algeranon

    And if you can’t get them in in 20 minutes, Superglue is prolly your best bet. Make sure you don’t glue your fingers to your teeth, though. It’s hard to eat that way. Hard to climb too.

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