Dr. Crump’s Review of Toothache Home Remedies
The other day I searched toothache on Google and Pinterest to see what would come up. Unsurprisingly, the top search results were mostly about toothache home remedies and came from a variety of sources of varying credibility. There were any number of suggested concoctions you could swish, pastes you could make and apply to the tooth, essential oils to apply, toothache pressure points, etc. that were all supposed alleviate toothache pain, or cure toothaches all together. By the end of my searching I was genuinely concerned for people suffering from a toothache who were left with no direction other than what the internet provides.
This article is an effort to:
-Get you out of pain as quickly as possible
-Steer you clear from home remedies that could potentially cause harm.
-Help you to understand when it’s safe to try to manage a toothache at home, versus when a toothache has become a dental emergency that requires a prompt visit to the dentist or possibly the emergency room.
Getting Out of Pain
*It is important to note that treating the PAIN from a toothache is not the same as treating the toothache. Even though you might be able to get the pain under control, if the cause of the toothache isn’t fixed you are VERY likely to find yourself in pain again soon.
Toothache pain can be caused by a variety of things, but the most common is inflammation. In many cases, if you can get the inflammation under control your pain will ease.
Recommended Ways to Treat Toothache Pain:
1. Take 600-800mg of Ibuprofen 2-3 times a day for 2-3 days
For pediatric dosing follow the dosing recommendations on the children’s Ibuprofen bottle according to your child’s age and weight.
Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. If taken at this dose range and taken consistently for a couple of days many patients can expect to receive meaningful relief from toothache pain. Ibuprofen can sometimes be a bit hard on the stomach so it’s a good idea to take it with food.
It is critical that you take the Ibuprofen on a consistent schedule so that the levels in your body can remain high enough to be therapeutic and keep you comfortable. If you wait until the pain comes back before you take your next dose you will be forced to wait until the pills are digested in the stomach and the medication is in your system again before you get relief; this can take 45min to an hour.
*Ibuprofen also thins the blood so if you take a blood thinner of any kind you should not take any Ibuprofen until you check with your doctor.
Additionally, if you have any other medical conditions or take any prescription medications you should also check with your doctor before taking Ibuprofen.
2. Sleep with your head elevated
You often don’t notice toothache pain until you go to bed at night. When you lay down there is a slight increase in the pressures in your head. That slightly increased pressure is part of what leads to increased and throbbing pain. Simply sleeping with your head elevated on a few pillows or in the recliner may give you modest relief.
3. Topical Application of Clove Essential Oil
This is one home remedy for toothache pain that may be worth trying, but is only a temporary measure, will only provide low level relief, and will not solve your underlying problem. The FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe Database) says the following regarding clove oil:
“The available information indicates that orally administered eugenol, the principal ingredient of cloves and products derived from them, is readily absorbed and excreted without accumulation. Eugenol exhibits a low degree of toxicity for the several animal species tested, and only at levels far greater than those occurring in foods, does it appear to be able under some conditions to produce irritation of the squamous epithelium of the gastrointestinal tract. It is to be noted that cloves, clove oils and eugenol have long been used topically as analgesics, germicides, and for other purposes.
In the light of the foregoing, the Select Committee concludes that:
There is no evidence in the available information on cloves, clove oils and their principal constituents, eugenol, that demonstrates or suggests reasonable grounds to suspect a hazard to the public when they are used at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in the future.”
See the direct source at: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging
In non-technical terms, this is saying is that clove oil is generally safe and non-toxic. The note of caution is that it can be irritating to cells of your stomach (gastrointestinal tract). The tissues in the mouth are the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract and are especially delicate so this is a noteworthy caution. The FDA also acknowledges that clove oil has been used as an analgesic (pain reliever).
So if you’re the type of person who prefers homeopathic remedies, or if Ibuprofen hasn’t worked for you, you could give this a try.
Directions: Put some clove oil on a cotton swab and dab it on and around your affected tooth. To help prevent any type of skin irritation you could dilute the clove oil with coconut oil before applying it. Reapply as needed.
4. See your dentist, get prescription pain medication if needed, get started on an antibiotic if necessary, and get the underlying tooth problem resolved.
Naturally this is my top recommendation. Coming to see me is the surest and safest way to not only get out of pain, but also to treat the tooth and be sure you’re not suffering again in the next couple of days. Toothaches almost never resolve themselves without treatment. The longer you wait to be seen by a dentist the more damage can be done to the problem tooth and the surrounding gums and tissue. It’s truly worth making the time to see the dentist.
Toothache home remedies that are not recommended
1. Swishing with a salt water solution
The theory behind this remedy is that the salt water will act as a cleansing agent and help remove the bacteria causing the infection. While a salt water swish will generally do no harm to the mouth, it is unlikely that once the problem with your tooth has gotten severe enough to send you scouring the internet for home remedies a simple swish with saline will solve you problems. It’s much more likely that your condition has become bad enough you will need something stronger. If you have a “bad” toothache this is unlikely to help you very much.
2. Swishing with hydrogen peroxide
The theory behind this remedy is similar to the salt water rinse, but again, but in my opinion this would be one to avoid. I will never forget one gentleman who came into my office after swishing undiluted hydrogen peroxide for a couple of days. The hydrogen peroxide had caused chemical burns throughout his mouth and all his oral tissue was white and sloughing off. Not only did it not relieve his toothache, but the damage it caused made him even more uncomfortable.
3. Holding an aspirin directly to the sore tooth
Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory and is in the same classification of medications as Iburprofen (NSAIDS – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) so theoretically this should be helpful in the same way Ibuprofen is. The problem is that aspirin is acidic. The full chemical name of aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid. When an aspirin is left in direct contact with the tooth and gum tissue for an extended period of time it causes a chemical burn and, similar to hydrogen peroxide, causes the tissue to turn white and slough off. Anecdotally, I have had patients come in and report that they tried this home remedy and received minor relief from their toothache pain. I have also seen first hand the damage it caused to their oral tissues. You will need to weigh the potential risks with the potential benefit and decide if this is something you’d like to try, but it’s not one I recommend.
4. Topical application of Bourbon or Vanilla
This home remedy calls for you to soak a cotton ball or cotton swab in either bourbon or vanilla and apply it to the tooth. The rational is that the alcohol will act as an antiseptic and help kill off infection as well as provide pain relief. Again, this is not likely to provide meaningful pain relief (although if you are liberal with the Bourbon you may eventually be “relaxed” enough you don’t care about the pain as much).
5. Chewing garlic or making a garlic paste
This home remedy is based on the antibacterial properties of garlic; which are legitimate. But it’s unpredictable whether you’d be able to get the garlic exactly where it was needed. What if your toothache is due to an infection in the root of the tooth, or a cavity in the small space between two teeth? How will you get the garlic there? With chewing garlic, or any other topical home remedies, you would be unable to get the garlic at the true site of the infection. As a result your garlic chewing would be a waste of time. Additionally, I was unable to find any reliable sources for how much to use, for how long, and when someone could expect to see meaningful relief. This falls in the category of theoretically being sound, but unlikely to help in reality.
6. Elemental Silver Pills
This homeopathic remedy is used due to the antibacterial effects of elemental silver, which are legitimate. While this might be helpful for the prevention of a toothache or perhaps for a minor infection it’s doubtful whether this will be strong enough to get ahead of an infection that’s been festering for some time. I would definitely advise my patients to begin treatment with the proper antibiotic to ensure effective treatment.
When does a toothache become a medical emergency?
There are some instances you shouldn’t be wasting time experimenting with home remedies for your toothache and need to seek medical care right away.
1. If you have swelling that is pronounced and extends down to your jaw and neck, and or, up towards you eye. That is serious and requires intervention by a dentist that day, or a trip to the Emergency Room if it’s after hours or on a weekend.
2. If you have begun running high fevers (103 or higher) in association with your toothache. This is a strong indicator of a raging infection that needs treatment immediately. Teeth are very vascular (have lots of blood flow) and an infection in your tooth can spread infection throughout your body and lead to sepsis and septic shock, which are very serious and can be fatal.
3. A toothache, or jaw pain, can also be a symptom of a heart attack. Usually this will be a pain in the lower teeth or jaw and may be associated with excursion. It could also, though not always, be associated with tightness in the chest or pain in the left arm. If you have any heart disease or cardiac history you should take tooth or jaw pain very seriously and seek medical attention.
In closing, your best bet for getting out of pain from a toothache is to begin taking Ibuprofen and get in to see your dentist. Obviously coming from a dentist that might sound a bit biased, but I truly believe that the safest and quickest way to get the relief you need is by seeking professional assistance.
Disclaimer: This article is meant for informational purposes only. Due to the unique circumstances of each person this information is not meant to treat or diagnose. You are advised to seek the care of your doctor or dentist to determine what options are best for you.