4 Home Remedies for Toothaches, According to Experts

Photo: Getty Images / tommaso79
There are certain things in life we expect to be a little painful: the credit card bill, breakups, karaoke night when you have a cold. Teeth, however, aren't supposed to hurt—which is why it's so easy for a toothache to take a person by surprise. And unlike having something stuck in your eye (which has a clear cause), it's not always clear what to do about tooth pain. It's unpleasant, but not quite an emergency situation in most cases. And who wants to make an extra trip to the dentist? (It's so hard to get an appointment anyways.)

Well, here's a news flash: "One should always see the dentist if they experience any type of pain," says Irina Sinensky, DDS, a dentist at New York City's Dental House. "Even if it’s mild or minor and subsides quickly, it can be a sign of a problem like grinding or clenching your teeth." You may also have an infection or something else going on in your gums that needs to be looked at by a doctor.

Generally, a toothache that lasts longer than a day or two requires a dentist visit (sorry!). Your dentist will also want to take a peek sooner if: 

  • the pain is severe
  • teeth are sensitive to cold or hot stimuli (like cold water or warm soups)
  • there is swelling, discharge, or abscesses near the tooth
  • you have a fever
  • the pain originates at the jaw
  • the pain is at the site of a wisdom tooth
  • the pain comes on following a mouth injury involving broken or knocked-out teeth.

However, there's no use in sitting around in pain while you wait for your appointment. Instead, you can try any of these expert approved home remedies for toothache to get some temporary relief. We think your mouth will thank you for the extra TLC!

1. Essential oils

Essential oils are good for more than just your diffuser, says Jennifer Palmer, owner of wellness center Nourishing Journey and doctorate of naturopathy. “I often find that clove essential oil or tea tree essential oil on a cotton swab can minimize some pain. I am also a fan of herbal tooth powders for sensitive teeth. Uncle Harry’s brand has one with the essential oils of clove, cinnamon, and oregano.”

"Clove oil has eugenol which numbs the dental nerve when it contacts it," adds Dr. Sinensky." It can provide temporary relief but must be followed up with a dentist." (FYI: Get the go-ahead from your doc before using any herbal remedies if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription or OTC meds.)

You can buy clove oil at health food stores or pharmacies. Using this remedy is as simple as mixing a few drops of clove oil with a teaspoon of a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil, soaking the mixture up in a cotton ball, and rubbing the cotton ball over the painful part of your mouth. But whatever you do, do not gargle with undiluted essential oils.

2. Salt water rinse

One of the simplest solutions to a transitory toothache is to rinse your mouth with salt water. Not only does the saline solution cleanse your mouth and act as an antiseptic, it is also more gentle than a traditional mouthwash, which generally contains alcohol and can irritate painful teeth and gums. "[This method is] useful as antiseptic for gum infections and abscesses as the salt water pulls all the bad stuff onto itself," says Dr. Sinensky. However, she says people with high blood pressure should consult their doctor first before trying this.

To make your own salt water rinse, stir a quarter to a half teaspoon of table salt or sea salt into a cup of warm or hot water until it is completely dissolved. You want the water to be warm enough to dissolve the salt, but not so hot that it will burn your mouth. Swish this solution gently in your mouth for about 30 seconds before spitting it out.

3. Cold compress

"A cold compress is effective for reducing [the] discomfort associated with gum inflammation and swelling," says Dr. Sinensky. You can make your own cold compress either by soaking a towel in cold water, bagging it, and popping it in the freezer to cool down for about 15 minutes, or by filling a sealable bag part-way with ice and water and wrapping it in a damp towel. You can also use a bag of frozen produce, such as peas, in a pinch. Make sure to apply the compress for 10 minutes, take a 10 minute break, then repeat, Dr. Sinensky added. (You don't want to freeze your face!)

4. OTC painkillers

"My personal suggestion is to take 600 mg of ibuprofen (like Motrin) and two extra strength acetaminophen (like Tylenol) every 4-6 hours if the pain persists until you are able to follow up with a dentist," says Dr. Sinensky. "This combination provides a strong analgesic for patients and well reduces inflammation, which is usually the cause of tooth related discomfort."

Again, none of these are total "cures" so to speak—as Dr. Sinensky says, a toothache requires a dentist's visit. When it comes to your pearly whites, you definitely don't want to leave things to chance.

With additional reporting by Kells McPhillips. 

For more oral hygiene intel, here's how to whiten your teeth without bleach and the verdict on whether or not you need fluoride to keep your mouth healthy.

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