A toothache is one of the most common disorders people suffer from. Here is a detailed 4000+ word article featuring the best toothache remedies to deal with a tooth pain caused by dental decay, injury or infection. There is also an infographic in the post summarizing 5 best home remedies for toothache. Detailed instructions on how to use individual remedies are also included.
Before we start I would like to point out something very important.
Toothache and any painful or swelling process in the mouth may be very dangerous.
So you should always pay an immediate visit to your dentist or emergency ward of your local hospital if you have a toothache and use below mentioned remedies only as a temporary relief until you get a proper dental treatment.
It is better be safe than sorry!
What causes a toothache?
As the name suggests a toothache is a pain in your teeth, their supporting structures, like gums or jaws (1).
Its clinical manifestations vary greatly.
Sometimes you may just feel a mild soreness while other times the pain in your teeth or jaws will be short and sharp or excruciating, throbbing and unbearable.
A toothache can generally be caused by dental diseases (odontogenic toothache) or by diseases of surrounding areas of the teeth (e.g. gums, jaw, nerves, tissues, etc., e.g. non-odontogenic or non-dental toothache).
The leading cause of odontogenic toothache are pulpitis (inflammation of the pulp of the tooth caused by cavities (tooth decay), microbial inflammation, tooth trauma such as cracked tooth or loose filling or crown, etc.), dental hypersensitivity (which is caused by various factors, including home teeth whitening), apical periodontitis (inflammation of the ligaments and bone around apex of the dental root) and dental abscess (e.g. collection of pus in various areas around the teeth) (1, 2).
The causes of non-dental toothache include gum diseases, disorders of maxillary sinus (hollow space in maxilla bone), trigeminal neuralgia, cluster headaches, temporomandibular joint disorders, cancer, etc. (1).
How to stop a toothache with medicines
As in a treatment of any other disease, the main cause of the tooth pain needs to be identified and dealt with first.
This means that you should always go to see your dentist if you suffer from a toothache.
Here is a great video showing how to make a temporary filling and alleviate the tooth pain before you go to the dentist:
You may also try some of the following remedies. Some of them are available over-the-counter, while others are only available when prescribed by your dentist.
Non-narcotic pain killers (analgesics)
These are available without medical prescription (over the counter).
The most popular non-narcotic tooth pain killers include (3):
You may buy these medications in your local pharmacy.
These medicines are available in various forms but for treatment of a toothache you will generally use either pills, liquid (syrup), buccal form (e.g. tablet, which will dissolve when held between the gum and cheek) or cream.
Always read the dosing instructions, which come with these medications and never exceed maximum permitted dose.
In case of a pill you just need to swallow it (and drink sufficient amount of water to make it go down to your stomach and dissolve).
If you have difficulty in swallowing you may crush the pill, let it dissolve in a glass of water, stir and drink it.
Precautions associated with use of non-narcotic pain killers
While these medications are usually safe if taken in accordance with the instructions, please bear in mind the following possible issues and always read the instructions before taking the drug:
Ibuprofen and Aspirin may cause damage to gastric tissue (4), which means that you should not take them if you are suffering from disorders like gastric ulcers, gastric bleeding, etc.
Aspirin affects blood clotting and may cause bleeding so it is not a good idea to take it if you expect having your tooth extracted, etc. (5). Always ask your dentist before taking an aspirin for killing a toothache and always tell your dentist that you took an aspirin before he/she starts your tooth treatment.
Also, never give aspirin to a child younger than 2 years old or to children recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms. It may cause a deadly disease called Reye syndrome (6, 7). To be safe I do recommend not taking an aspirin for a toothache if you are under 18. If you have any concerns or questions ask your doctor before taking the pill.
When taking acetaminophen never and ever exceed recommended daily dose. Otherwise your liver may get seriously damaged (8).
If you have any concerns or questions ask your doctor before taking the pain killer!
Another group of drugs, which may be used to deal with toothache, are topical corticosteroids.
These medications, which include Oracort, Orabase-HCA and Oralone, are anti-inflammatory analgesics in the form of a dental paste (cream), which can be used as temporary painkiller and anti-inflammatory agent for oral inflammatory and ulcerative lesions, including periodontitis (9, 10, 11, 12, 13).
Oracort and Oralone contain triamcinolone acetonide, while Orabase-HCA contains hydrocortisone. In some countries lidocaine may be added to Oracort to strengthen its pain killing properties (14).
In some countries corticosteroids are available over the counter (e.g. without prescription), while in other countries a prescription from your physician is needed. Ask your local dentist for accurate information.
Topical corticosteroid precautions
If dental topical corticosteroids are used as recommended they usually do not cause serious adverse effects. However they should never be used for a long period of time, which increases the risk of unpleasant effects.
Most common side effects are burning or itching in treated area. However sometimes serious adverse effects may occur, including systemic side effects (15).
Topical corticosteroids may not be used during pregnancy without prior consent of your doctor. If you become pregnant during the course of treatment, always tell your doctor immediately.
Narcotic (opioid) pain killers
For treatment of severe dental pain, narcotic analgesics such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) or codeine may be prescribed.
Codeine medications usually include acetaminophen for augmented efficacy, for example Tylenol and Vicoprofen (16).
Narcotic pain killers may usually not be purchased over the counter and to get them you will need a prescription from your physician.
Opioid pain killer precautions
Narcotic analgesics can cause breathing disturbances. Therefore do not use them if you suffer from conditions like asthma or any respiratory disorders (17).
Never use them in larger doses, or for longer than required.
Narcotic painkillers may also be addictive habit-forming, even at normal doses.
Never share these painkillers with another person, especially someone with a history of drug abuse or addiction.
Keep the medicine in a place where others cannot reach them.
Misuse and abuse of narcotic medicines can cause overdose, addiction or possibly death especially in case of a child or other person using the medicine when not required or without prescription (18).
Another group of drugs, which may be used to stop a toothache is called topical anesthetics. These are used to deal with dental pain on the surface level of inner lining of oral cavity.
Most frequently used topical anesthetics in dental medicine include Anbesol and Orajel, which are available as over the counter medicines (liquids, gels, sprays, paste or as oral anesthesia). These drugs contain benzocaine, which has anesthetic properties (19).
Topical anesthetic precautions
Anbesol and Orajel are generally well tolerated and not toxic when applied as recommended by doctor or dentist.
However, serious , life-threatening adverse effects have been reported in some cases such as coma,seizures, irregular heart beat or breathing problems with over-dosage of anbesol (20).
Over application of Anbesol can raise the danger of pulmonary aspiration by relaxing the gag-reflex and allowing regurgitated digestive contents or oral secretions to enter the airway. Using an oral anesthetic and consuming an acidic beverage before bed can be particularly risky.
The application of high concentration Anbesol applied to mucous membranes or oral cavity of children has been found to be a cause of methemoglobinemia, a malady in which concentration of oxygen carried by the blood is greatly lowered.
This side effect is most commonly observed in children under two years of age.
Therefore the FDA has stated that Anbesol should not be used in children under two years of age, unless recommended by and supervised by a dentist or doctor.
Manifestations of methemoglobinemia usually take place minutes to hours of applying Anbesol, and can appear upon the first-time use or after prolonged use (20).
Other medications used in connection with a toothache
In addition to the above mentioned medications, some other medications are used in connection with tooth pain killing. These mainly include:
For treatment of painful infections such as periodontal infections, dental abscesses, infections around wisdom teeth or teeth crowns, antibiotics are used (21).
Sometimes antibiotics are used as prophylaxis (e.g. to prevent infection) following procedures like dental extraction or abscess drainage.
These medications do not soothe the pain but rather kill microbes, which caused the inflammation.
This eventually results in pain relief.
Antibiotics are generally used with pain killers in case of mild to severe dental infections and are always prescribed by a dentist.
Some people may be allergic to penicillin or amoxicillin. In such case macrolide antibiotics (Erythromycin, Benzamycin, Emgel, Ery, Ilotycin, Staticin, etc.) are used.
For some serious tooth abscesses or infections, which do not respond to other antibiotics, Clindamycin (Cleocin HCL) may be used.
For dealing with plaque and gingivitis in the oral cavity or periodontal pockets chlorhexidine antibiotic is used (sold under brand names Peridex, PerioChip, and PerioGard). Chlorhexidine comes in chip form, which makes its application inside the cavity easier (22).
Tetracyclines, such as doxycycline (available in drug stores as Atridox) are sometimes used to help cure periodontal disease. However these antibiotics may not be used in children due to its negative effect on teeth (23).
Usually, antibiotics must be prescribed by a doctor and are not available as over the counter medicine.
Antifungals are used for the treatment of pain caused by oral thrush or candidiasis in mouth. Some antifungals such as nystatin (Mycostatin) are used to terminate Candida albicans infection in the mouth, including dental stomatitis and thrush (24).
Nystatin (Mycostatin) comes in form of lozenges, troches and oral suspension. While taking the oral suspension, patients are told to take one half of the dose in each side of mouth, keeping the suspension as long as possible by gargling or swishing it around, before swallowing.
Fluoride which is present in most toothpastes, is used for prevention of tooth decay. Prescription strength fluoride are also used to reduce tooth sensitivity (25).
Antiseptics are available in shops as mouth washes that are used to treat plaque and gingivitis and destroy germs that cause bad breath.
Benzodiazepines are used for the management of anxiety experienced by patients before dental procedure (26).
Saliva substitutes such as Aquoral, Caphosol, Moi-Stir, Mouth Kote Dry Mouth, Mouthkote, Numoisyn and SalivaSure are used for treating xerostomia or dry mouth, a complication of autoimmune diseases or occasionally associated with other diseases which can produce toothache. They usually come in form of sprays and are used when required (27).
How to cure toothache with home remedies
There are lots of home remedies to soothe a toothache. However these should never be used alone but rather as an addition to proper medical (dental) treatment. Always see your dentist if you suffer from a toothache and follow his/her advice. Use home remedies only with prior consent of your dentist and at your own responsibility.
Ice acts as an anesthetic agent and nerve blocker that blocks transmission of pain sensation. Therefore it may be used as a pain killer to soothe a toothache (28, 29).
How to use?
There are several ways to use ice to soothe a toothache.
The first one is called ice massage. Just grab a small ice cube in your hand and massage it gently over the painful tooth. Do this for 30 to 60 seconds until the ice melts. The pain will begin to vanish as the ice directly targets the exposed nerves of your tooth. Also the ice numbs the painful area, which temporarily removes the pain.
The second way is based on the use of an ice pad. You can buy one in your local pharmacy and let it freeze in your freezer. Then wrap the pad in a towel or piece of cloth and press it against the cheek, where your tooth hurts. Let the ice numb the painful area for 15 - 20 minutes. Do not exceed this time and never apply an ice pad directly on the skin without a towel or cloth. This may result in permanent damage of your cheek tissue.
Garlic is sometimes called a natural antibiotic. It contains a substance called Allicin, which acts as an antibiotic and provides some relief (30).
How to use?
Garlic may be used to stop a toothache in two ways.
You may either justinserta clove of garlic into your mouth and chew it. Do this every morning to alleviate the pain.
Another option is to crush a garlic clove and mix it with some table salt. The mixture is then applied directly on the painful tooth. This method is better than the first one as Allicin is only released when the garlic clove is crushed. Do not use garlic powder instead of real garlic. It does not work. You should also be careful and not to apply the garlic/salt mixture on the gums as it may cause irritation, which is very painful.
Vanilla extract is another home remedy for toothache. It has antiseptic and analgesic properties and provides a temporary pain relief (31, 32).
How to use?
The best way to use vanilla extract as toothache home remedy is to apply several (4 to 5) drops of vanilla extract on a piece of cotton and press the cotton against gums near the painful tooth. Let the vanilla extract do the trick for 5 - 10 minutes. Then remove the cotton. Repeat as necessary.
Vicks VapoRub is a special menthol based ointment, which can also effectively be used as a remedy for a toothache (33).
How to use?
Dab some Vicks VapoRub over the side of the face where you are experiencing pain. Place a towel on it and lay down to rest in bed. Heat from the vapor rub absorbs into the skin and provides pain relief.
Potatoes are known to contain lots of potassium, which is important for proper nerve healing and function.
It is said to be an effective home remedy for tooth abscess, however there is no scientific evidence that it really works.
Therefore (as with any other home remedies), I must suggest that you only try this home remedy at your own risk and with a prior consent of your dentist, whom you must see immediately if you suffer from an abscessed tooth.
How to use?
Chop off a slice of raw potato (not boiled) and apply on your aching tooth for about fifteen to twenty minutes.
Hot tea bag
Some dentists claim that hot tea bags work surprisingly well in easing a toothache (34). It is due to healing powers of the tannic acid, which reduces swelling and also has blood clotting powers.
How to use?
Grab a black or green tea bag and place it on a shallow plate or bowl.
Add some cold water just to cover the tea bag.
Carefully insert the bowl or plate with the tea bag and water into the microwave oven.
Microwave for about 30 seconds.
Then grab the tea bag and squeeze out as much water as possible.
Insert the tea bag into your mouth against the painful tooth and the gum.
Have your mouth shut so that the heat from the bag is kept in the mouth.
As soon as the tea bag cools down, remove it and dispose as communal waste.
Do not re-use the tea bag! Always get a new one when repeating this procedure.
Cough drops (Throat lozenge)
Throat lozenge may be used as a toothache remedy as it contains a small amount of anesthetic (benzocaine) in them. They contain a small amount of anesthetic in them, which may ease the pain.
How to use?
Just put two cough drops in your mouth and let them dissolve. This may ease the tooth pain a bit.
Wheatgrass has some unique healing properties and is a powerful antioxidant (35, 36). The juice of wheat grass is an excellent treatment for dental decay and toothache.
It shields against assault of bacteria and infections.
How to use?
Crush and grind three inch wheat saplings in a blender and then consume or use as a mouth wash. It washes out toxic substances from gums and eliminates bacteria.
Its antimicrobial properties make it a good toothache remedy.
How to use?
Ground a pinch of Asafoetida and mix the powder with a table spoon of lemon juice.
Warm the mixture to 37°C.
Soak a cotton bud in the warm mixture and apply the cotton bud on the painful tooth.
Bayberry and vinegar
Ayurveda medicine claims that bayberry mixed with vinegar can cure a toothache (38).
How to use?
Grind a paste of a pinc of bayberry bark and mix it with a table spoon of vinegar.
Apply on painful tooth for pain relief.
Even a layman can tell that this miracle condiment can relieve toothache swiftly and efficiently.
Oil of clove has antiseptic, antioxidant and analgesic (pain killing) properties (39, 40).
Eugenol or clove oil is a widely used constituent in dental products for its pain relieving properties.
How to use?
Mix two to three drops of clove oil with olive or oregano oil and dip a cotton pad in the mixture.
Apply the cotton pad on the aching tooth to benefit from antimicrobial and pain killing properties.
The second way of using clove oil (eugenol) to stop a toothache is buying a ready made product in your local drug store or pharmacy. This is particularly helpful if your pain is caused by a cavity or exposed nerve (due to cavity).
Look for a product labelled "temporary filling", containing clove oil and zinc oxide.
Prepare the mixture as instructed on the product label and fill-in the cavity.
Before filling the cavity use dental floss to remove any food residues from the hole in your tooth. Do not use a toothpick to get the food out of the deep cavities as the pick may get broken and stuck in the cavity and your dentist will have to drill it out, which is not what you want.
Salt and pepper
Salt and pepper are used as traditional condiments in USA, Europe and Asia (41). However their mixture can also be used as a remedy for toothache, painful gums or foul breath.
How to use?
Mix a table spoon of salt and a table spoon of pepper together.
Add a few drops of water or olive oil to the mixture to create a paste.
Apply the paste on your painful tooth and let the mixture ease your pain.
You may repeat as necessary, several times a day.
Psidium guava leaves have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and has lots of clinical uses. Extracts from leaves contain phenolic, flavonoid, terpenoid, triterpene and carotenoid substances, which posses useful pharmacological properties and are used as a remedy for gastrointestinal issues as well as a remedy for toothache (42, 43, 44).
How to use?
Pick up some guava leaves, insert them into your mouth and chew (munch) them to ease the pain.
Alcohol has antiseptic medicinal properties and is an astringent and some patients do get relief from toothache by swishing around whisky or bourbon in their mouth.
However, relief is most likely produced because the effect of the alcohol on gums turns away the attention of brain from pain signals emanating from the tooth.
How to use?
Soak a cotton bud in a small amount of whiskey or brandy and apply on the aching tooth.
This will numb the pain.
You may also try taking a swish of whiskey around the painful tooth.
Drink the liquor without ice because cold will aggravate toothache.
Opt for another treatment option if you have a history of alcoholism.
Do not use this home remedy if you are under 21 (or 18 in some countries).
Warm salt water
This is considered as one of the most popular and effective ways of dealing with a toothache. While there is no solid scientific evidence that this remedy really works some people claim that it works just fine. Salt absorbs infected fluid from the tooth, which decreases the pressure on nerve endings and easies the pain.
How to use?
Put a half tablespoon of salt in eight ounces of lukewarm water.
Swish this mixture around in your mouth.
Repeat several times a day as necessary.
Using onion to treat toothache may offer a slight bit of relief because onion also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties (45, 46).
How to use?
Peel and slice one medium sized onion.
Chew three to five slices of onion for about three minutes.
This ensures extermination of all the germs in oral cavity and may also ease your toothache.
It also is a great way to prevent tooth decay and other mouth and gum affecting disorders.
A downside of this treatment option is foul (unpleasant) breath due to onion smell.
Ginger acts as a powerful herbal medicine in curing toothache. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties it may be helpful as a remedy for ringworm, stomach upsets, headaches and toothaches (47).
How to use?
Grind one slice of ginger root and mix with lukewarm water.
Apply on the affected tooth.
This should soothe the pain fast.
Keep the rest of the ginger root in your refrigerator for future use.
Repeat several times a day as necesary.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is frequently used as toothpaste additive (48). It acts as prevention of tooth decay.
How to use?
Add 10 to 15 drops of tea tree oil into a small glass of water.
Swish your mouth with this mixture 3 times a day until the swelling or toothache stops.
Things to remember
Toothache is quite common and may be dangerous if not properly treated.
Never attempt to treat a painful tooth on your own but always see your dentist as soon as possible.
In order to ease the pain before seeing your dentist you may select from two approaches: soothing the toothache with medicine or with home remedies.
Both of them should be used wisely and with prior consent of your dentist.
If you decide to go with medicine, you have the following options:
Non narcotic painkillers, which include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, etc. These are generally available as over the counter medicine (without prescription).
Topical corticosteroids, such as Oracort, Orabase-HCA and Oralone.
Narcotic (opiod) painkillers, such as codeine or hydrocodone (Vicodin). These are generally prescribed by your dentist.
Topical anesthetics, such as Anbesol and Orajel, which are normally available as over the counter medicine.
Other medicines, such as antibiotics, antifungals, fluorides, antiseptics, benzodiazepines or saliva substitues. These are generally prescribed by your dentist.
If you opt for home remedies, there are virtually hundreds of options. In our post we mentioned the most important ones, which actually work best:
ice, garlic, vanilla extract, Vicks VapoRub, potato, hot tea bag, cough drops, wheatgrass juice, asafoetida, bayberry and vinegar, salt and pepper, guava leaves, alcohol, warm salt water, onion, ginger and tea tree oil
Before we go, here is a video summarizing the best ways to stop a toothache:
One final word: The best remedy for a toothache is actually prevention. So clean your teeth at least two times a day using a toothbrush and toothpaste and dental floss to clean areas between the teeth and see your dentist regularly, at least two times a year.