If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to have a toothache, you know that the pain is horrible, and most remedies don’t really help. Many folklore remedies circulate, but is there any truth to them? We’ll take a look at them, but it is important to remember that none of these address the problem that is causing the toothache. You may get some temporary relief, but you still need to see a dentist to find out what is causing the problem and treat it so that it doesn’t come back.
Ice: One folk remedy suggests sucking on an ice cube to relieve your toothache.
Fact (at least sometimes): Some teeth will ache when heat touches them and feel better with cold. Our body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty hot. The ice cube lowers the temperature around the tooth to bring temporary relief.
Oil of Cloves (Eugenol): Folk remedies suggest everything from putting the oil on the tooth, to putting it on a cotton ball that you put on the tooth, to biting into a whole clove that you’ve put on the tooth.
Fact: Oil of Cloves/Eugenol does have a soothing effect. In fact, it has been used in many dental products and is the source of what most people call the “dental office smell”.
Benzocaine (in an over-the-counter formula): placed on the tooth as the package directs.
Undecided: The ending “caine” indicates an anesthetic which may temporarily relieve pain. Benzocaine is a topical (surface) anesthetic. It will tend to wash away easily. Some formulations try to make it into an “oral bandage” material to keep it on or near the tooth. But, a dental school study using benzocaine pain patches reported that benzocaine did not seem to have an effect on toothache pain compared to a patch that had no medicine in it at all.
Vanilla Extract: Folk remedies suggest rubbing it on your tooth or putting it on a cotton ball that you can bite with that tooth.
Fact: Vanilla Extract does seem to have some pain relieving properties, but it is most likely the alcohol in the extract that provides the relief. Some people do find the vanilla scent soothing as well.
Garlic Clove: Chewing a garlic clove on the affected tooth is what most folk remedy sources suggest.
Undecided: Garlic does contain allicin which does have a slight antimicrobial effect. Chewing it releases the allicin, but the antimicrobial effect is not enough to reverse damage already done or stop damage that is occurring. Garlic and allicin have not been studied so we only have personal reports as evidence as to how effective it is or isn’t.
Comfrey: Some folklore sources suggest chewing comfrey leaves
False: Comfrey may have some pain relieving properties, but it also has toxic properties that can be absorbed through the skin and mucosa (what covers the inside of your mouth) which can poison you. The bad seems to outweigh the good in this case.
Raisin with Black Pepper: At least one source suggested splitting a raisin, putting black pepper inside, and then biting down on the raisin with the affected tooth.
False: I could find no source that confirmed that black pepper worked to relieve pain. In addition, the raisin (a dehydrated fruit) contains high levels of sugar and is sticky. The sugar is going to encourage the bacteria that cause decay to break down the tooth more. The stickiness will keep the sugar source in contact with those bacteria for a longer period of time.
Again, I want to stress that a toothache is a sign that something is wrong. While I understand the desire to relieve the pain until you can get in to see a dentist, please realize that none of these nor any other ones you might find from various sources, fix the problem that is causing the pain. They are fine to use as a temporary measure while you wait, but make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible—and don’t be fooled if the tooth stops hurting—most times, it will come back and it will come back worse than the previous time.
*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the judgement of your healthcare professionals.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who is accepting new patients at her Lorain, Ohio office. Call 440-960-1940 to reserve your time! Find out more about Dr. Robb at www.drjrobb.com or ask her questions at www.facebook.com/DrJenniferRobb