Toothache pain can be a minor annoyance to a major disruption of life. While your dentist is the only one who can identify severe tooth pain, there are many tooth pain remedies you can try at home for temporary relief.
Depending on the cause of your toothache, certain remedies are likely to work better.
For instance, if you have an exposed tooth nerve, a numbing gel or clove essential oil may work. For a tooth abscess from untreated tooth decay, an over-the-counter painkiller such as ibuprofen is going to be more effective.
The best toothache remedies to try at home are:
- Salt water rinse
- Clove oil
- Cold compress
- Peppermint tea
- Knotted floss
- Guava leaves
- Wheatgrass juice
If you are in severe pain, have had pain for more than 2 days, or experiencing other symptoms with your toothache, call your dentist right away.
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1. Salt Water Rinse
The best way to relieve most tooth pain at home is a salt water rinse.
To rinse with a supersaturated salt rinse:
- Start with a glass of warm water. Do not use boiling water.
- Mix in one tablespoon at a time of pink Himalayan salt or Celtic sea salt.
- Continue adding salt until it no longer dissolves.
- Swish the solution for 30-60 seconds.
- Repeat 4-5 times per day.
This rinse is especially effective with gum pain and foreign body response to something like a poppy seed stuck in between the gums.
Over-the-counter toothache painkillers that can effectively relieve dental pain include:
- Ibuprofen (Advil)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol)
Ibuprofen for toothache seems to be more effective than acetaminophen. Some clinical trials have found that a combination of both Advil and Tylenol may be effective, but this should only be done under the direction of your dentist.
In general, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are best for oral pain relief.
Pain medications should be only a short-term option for toothache relief. Your dentist may prescribe you something stronger before you can come in for an appointment or if you need to use antibiotics before your dental work (like for an abscessed tooth).
Benzocaine is a topical anesthetic that can relieve tooth pain fast.
Studies show that 20% benzocaine gel reduces pain more than 10% and far outperforms a placebo.
The effects wear off completely after 2 hours, so it may need to be reapplied throughout the day.
Common brands that sell benzocaine products include:
For most children and adults, benzocaine carries no side effects. However, you should not use this medication for more than 1-2 days in a row without consulting a dentist.
In children under the age of 2, benzocaine can cause a rare, but very dangerous side effect that impairs oxygen levels in the bloodstream. The FDA warns that none of these products should be used during teething or until after the age of 2.
4. Clove Oil
Clove is an essential oil that may provide pain relief as strong as benzocaine.
To use clove oil to treat a toothache, apply a very small amount to a cotton ball or swab and apply gently to the affected area.
Many patients find that this treatment works best for an exposed or irritated tooth nerve (like when a filling falls out or a deep cavity has exposed the inside of the tooth). Specific placement of the clove oil is crucial for success — it will only work if you place the oil near the pulpal tissue (the inner substance of the tooth).
It’s important to note, however, that the active ingredient in clove oil is eugenol. Although eugenol occurs in nature, synthetic versions carry some safety concerns, according to the EWG.
Clove oil also has antibacterial properties, which means it can kill beneficial bacteria in the mouth and cause an imbalance in the oral microbiome.
For this reason, I don’t recommend using this remedy for more than a couple of days.
Most health food stores offer clove oil for a few dollars a bottle. Stick with high-quality essential oils to avoid any synthetic fillers. I like the NOW brand.
Elevating your head above your heart can reduce excess blood flow to the inflamed tooth that can make swelling increase and pain worse.
It sounds overly simplistic, but this small change can make a huge difference in tooth pain.
To sleep with a toothache, keep your head elevated with a wedge-shaped pillow or by stacking several standard pillows.
6. Cold Compress
Use a cold compress to reduce inflammation that leads to a toothache. It can cause your blood vessels to constrict (tighten) and is extremely useful for helping you sleep.
Frozen peas or a plastic Ziploc bag with half water and half ice work great to keep the toothache area cold and reduce swelling.
Other patients I’ve seen like to freeze corn syrup in a Ziploc, since it doesn’t ever get hard like ice.
You can also try a wrap that lets you apply ice consistently to the area without having to hold it up to your face, like this one. It also works as a heat compress!
Acupuncture and acupressure are natural remedies for toothache with a great deal of science to prove their efficacy.
According to multiple clinical trials, the use of acupuncture and/or acupressure can:
- Reduce toothache pain
- Act as an anesthetic for dental procedures
- Relieve pain after wisdom tooth extraction
- Reduce inflammation in the mouth
- Relieve TMJ pain
- Reverse nerve pain causing toothaches
- Improve salivation to fight dry mouth (which is a major cause of cavities)
- Improve pain responses
When getting acupuncture, always work with a qualified acupuncturist.
8. Peppermint Tea
Some studies have shown that peppermint tea has antioxidant and antibacterial properties and can help in numbing painful areas.
To give it a shot, brew a cup of peppermint tea, let it cool, and then swish around in the mouth. Add a bit of ice to cool it down faster.
Alternately, press a cooled peppermint tea bag against your painful tooth.
9. Knotted Floss
If your pain is caused by food stuck between the teeth, flossing with a piece of knotted floss can dislodge the food particles and provide almost immediate relief.
The best way to tell if this is the problem is to identify the basic source of your pain. Is it tender gums somewhere near the space between teeth?
If so, knot a piece of floss and floss through your teeth.
10. Guava Leaves
Lab research suggests that guava leaves may reduce dental pain by killing cavity-causing bacteria. It may also reduce inflammation that leads to a sore tooth.
To try guava leaves for toothache, simply chew on them. Alternatively, you can boil the leaves in water to make your own DIY mouthwash.
11. Wheatgrass Juice
Swishing wheatgrass juice as a natural mouthwash may help reduce tooth pain.
This traditional Eastern remedy has never been tested in clinical trials, however, so it may not be as effective as the other items on this list.
How to Sleep with a Toothache
A toothache at night can disrupt peaceful sleep, which your body needs for optimal healing.
Why is your toothache worse at night? Generally, if your toothache gets worse at night, it’s because your positional change has caused more blood to flow to the affected area.
To reduce your toothache before sleep:
- Rinse with salt water one final time after brushing your teeth
- Take a pain reliever like ibuprofen 30-45 minutes before bed
- Elevate your head using a wedge pillow or multiple pillows
- Use an ice pack or cold compress right before you lay down
- Use mouth tape to cut down on mouth breathing that may worsen toothache symptoms
- For severe toothache, use benzocaine immediately before going to sleep
Home Remedies to Avoid
Some remedies for toothache can actually cause more problems than they solve. Others are popular folk remedies, but science does not support their effectiveness against tooth pain.
As a dentist, I recommend you not use the following remedies when treating a toothache:
- Hydrogen peroxide: Peroxide is a popular home remedy for toothache, usually due to its antibacterial properties. Unfortunately, this antiseptic may also be associated with increased rates of oral cancer. Plus, there’s no evidence it reduces toothache symptoms. It also disrupts the oral microbiome, which is the last thing you want if you’re trying to improve oral health.
- Vanilla extract: Vanilla extract is high in ethanol, which may be one reason it’s commonly used to relieve tooth pain. However, there is no proof that it reliably — or safely — reduces toothache.
- Garlic: Similar to hydrogen peroxide, garlic is frequently touted as a toothache home remedy. But there’s no research to support that it’s effective.
- Alcohol: Neither rubbing alcohol nor whiskey have been shown to offer the folkloric pain relief benefits they are often suggested to have. No, alcohol will probably not fix your toothache.
- Bleach: Bleach is not good for toothaches. It is corrosive and will cause serious chemical burns and painful tissue death in the mouth if used for a toothache.
- Aspirin on teeth: Rubbing an aspirin on the teeth is another old remedy suggested for toothaches. It not only doesn’t work; it will cause ulceration of the teeth, tongue, and all oral tissues it touches.
Causes of Toothache
The most common things that cause a toothache include:
- Tooth decay/cavities
- Tooth abscesses
- Fractured tooth
- Root sensitivity
- Bruxism/teeth grinding
- Damaged or lost filling
- Adult or wisdom teeth eruption
- Gum disease or gingivitis
- Sinus infection (sinusitis)
- Failed dental work (like a toothache after a filling)
- Food stuck in teeth
Any pain that follows dental work should be discussed with your dentist right away.
To avoid painful teeth, follow these methods for prevention tooth decay and trauma:
- Practice good dental care (brush, floss, tongue scrape, and oil pull)
- Use a nano-hydroxyapatite toothpaste, which builds your tooth structure to reduce sensitive teeth
- Consider an electric toothbrush if you are at a high risk of toothache from cavities or periodontitis
- Eat a nutrient-dense, low-sugar diet to reduce plaque formation and tooth decay
- Use mouth tape every night to stop dry mouth
- Avoid consuming large amounts of very acidic foods and drinks (including very acidic fruits)
- Never skip your 6-month dental checkups — these help your dentist identify problems early before they turn into pain
- Always wear a mouthguard during physical activity or when playing sports
- Wear a seatbelt and drive safely
- Don’t use your teeth for anything but chewing — don’t open packages, flip a can tab, or chew on a pen
When to See Your Dentist
The best thing for a toothache is to talk to your dentist.
You should call your dentist about a toothache if:
- Your pain is severe enough to interfere with normal activities like eating or sleeping
- You experience toothache for 2 or more days
- You have a fever, pain when you open your mouth wide, or an earache
- Your face becomes distorted in any way
- You can’t breathe or swallow correctly
- You injured your teeth, face, or jaw
- Your gums have begun to bleed on a daily basis
- You recently had dental work like a filling or root canal
While sensitive teeth throughout the mouth are frequently caused by dietary issues and may go away with a good toothpaste, pain in an individual tooth should be assessed by a dentist right away.
New Hampshire dentist Tamatha L. Johnson, DDS puts it eloquently:
“In regards to a toothache, I would rather my patients err on the side of caution and call as soon as possible.
“Usually, by the time a tooth aches, some type of disease process has been in the works for quite a while. It could be a growing cavity, a fracture within the body of the tooth, a broken filling or crown, or it could be a sign of an unknown habit like clenching or grinding teeth.
“The sooner we can address these issues, the less invasive and less costly the treatment will be.”
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