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Published: 16 May 2024

Often overlooked, dental cases are on the rise among seafarers. In 2023, dental cases moved from MedSea’s sixth most common case to the second.

This shift is not surprising, given that oral diseases afflict 50% of the world’s population, costing $387 billion per year in direct costs (dental visits) to the world economy[1]. New research is now beginning to show that poor dental hygiene can impact on the rest of your body and contribute to other types of diseases.  

The data clearly shows there is a definite risk of both operational disruption and discomfort seafarers. The question arises, what can been done to mitigate these risks?


MedSea receive daily inquiries about various types of dental case, including:

  • Carries: Bacterial damage to the tooth, which may require a filling (if it becomes a cavity)
  • Displaced fillings: Caused by biting hard food or further tooth decay
  • Toothache: Inflammation or infection of the soft tissue inside the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels
  • Periodontal disease: Inflammation and infection of the gums and the supporting structures of the teeth, which can lead to tooth loss and other complications
  • Fragmented teeth: From sudden blows/accidents, grinding or clenching teeth


Dental cases are not always easy to manage onboard, and over 50% of MedSea’s dental cases require further shoreside evaluation (higher than average, compared to other case types). Adding to this challenge is the limited knowledge onboard about how to handle dental issues, as it is often not covered as part of first aid training courses.

When crew members cannot be immediately attended to by a dentist onshore, the pain and discomfort may affect their performance, concentration, sleep, and safety.

Given the clear risks, the focus must be on mitigating and preventing these issues. It is extremely important not only for crew members to take good care of their teeth before joining the vessel, but also to continue practising good oral hygiene throughout their time at sea.


  • Dental X-rays within your Pre-Employment Medical Examination: can detect any tooth defects, not visible on inspection and help you manage any underlying dental issues early on
  • Ensure good dental hygiene: Teeth should be brushed properly for approximately two minutes, at least twice a day, using a soft-bristled or powered toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste. Flossing and use of dental mouthwash is also recommended
  • Ensure your diet is rich in fruit and vegetables: Avoid or limit the consumption of sugary, acidic, or caffeinated drinks and aim to consume at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
  • We encourage you to stop smoking if you can: Aside from the obvious health benefits, stopping smoking can reduce the risk of gum disease and tooth decay
  • If you have dental pain onboard, seek medical advice and treatment as soon as possible: to reduce the potential for any complications and unplanned disembarkations.
  • Change your toothbrush every three to four months, or when the bristles begin to fray, to optimise effective cleaning.

To find out more about how MedSea, an International SOS Company can help support the health of your seafarers here

[1] Source WHO Global Oral Health Report