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Here’s a vital astronaut skill you may not have considered

With a stay on the International Space Station (ISS) usually lasting around six months, today’s astronauts have to be ready to deal with all sorts of happenings on the orbiting outpost 250 miles above Earth, including dental emergencies. Think about it — if one of your molars starts aching real bad while you’re in space, a short drive to your local dentist is out of the question.

With scenarios like that in mind, NASA spends time teaching its astronauts dentistry skills that cover everything from fillings to extractions.

Matthias Maurer, a German astronaut currently training for the SpaceX Crew-3 mission to the ISS in late October, this week tweeted a couple of photos of him participating in a dentistry training session at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. One of the images shows Maurer peering into the mouth of a manikin, while the other shows multiple sets of fake pearly whites that astronauts practice on.

“Before flying to space, astronauts train in minor dental procedures so we can change a filling or even pull a tooth if we have to,” Maurer said in the tweet. He added that he hopes he won’t need the skills during his upcoming mission, which he’s dubbed “Cosmic Kiss” as a nod to his love for space.

A dentist's perspective🪥🦷 Before flying to space, astronauts train in minor dental procedures so we can change a filling or even pull a tooth if we have to. 🤞 I won't need these skills during #CosmicKiss but it always helps to be prepared. #tbt

— Matthias Maurer (@astro_matthias) July 22, 2021

In a 2012 NASA report reviewing the matter of spaceflight dental emergencies, the agency noted that the longer astronauts spend in space, the more likely such an event will take place. Certainly, as NASA moves toward long-duration crewed missions to the moon and Mars, robust procedures for dealing with dental emergencies will become all the more necessary.

Up until 2012, there had been no reports of an in-flight dental emergency among American astronauts, though in 2011 an astronaut’s crown displacement on the ISS was successfully temporarily repaired by a crew member using onboard supplies.

The report notes that Russian cosmonauts have reported lost fillings and crowns in-flight that may have been dislodged by vibrations during a rocket launch, and also highlights a case in 1978 when a cosmonaut reportedly suffered “incapacitating dental pain” during the last two weeks of his 96-day flight aboard Salut 6.

Luckily for future space tourists using services offered by the likes of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, the trips will be really short and so there’ll be no chance of any dental emergencies occurring. In other words, there was never any chance of Jeff Bezos having to perform an emergency root canal on his brother Mark during their 10-minute trip to the edge of space earlier in the week.

For more insight into how astronauts work and live aboard the International Space Station, check out this collection of fascinating videos made by former visitors to the orbiting outpost.

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Trevor Mogg
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