Tooth and gum pain can be a minor annoyance or a source of severe pain. Most often, this pain is caused by injury, infections or tooth decay. While seeing a dentist is usually necessary to determine the cause and treatment, home remedies can help calm the pain until your visit. Pain relieving gels or medications can be a useful way to manage your discomfort. Other strategies to at least temporarily relieve gum and tooth pain include cold or warm compresses, salt water rinses, as well as some some herbal therapies and home remedies.
Products with benzocaine, such as numbing gels, can be applied topically to numb the pain of a toothache or sore gums. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil), can also help relieve the pain while you are waiting to see the dentist. Never place any of these directly on the toothache or gums, however, as they could result in irritation of the mouth tissue. If you are under a doctor’s care for any medical conditions or if you take prescription medications, seek your doctor’s advice about which pain reliever is right for you. Also, don’t use any pain relievers in young children unless first approved by the child’s pediatrician or dentist.
Warm or Cold Therapy
Depending on the reason for your pain, you may get some relief by applying a cold or warm compress against the outside of your cheek. Cooling the affected tissues may also help. Young children who are teething often find relief when gumming on a chilled teething ring or frozen washcloth, for instance. If you find that cold helps, you can also try applying a wet, cooled or frozen teabag on the area for up to 20 minutes. Peppermint tea bags may be of particular value, as this herb is purported to provide pain relief, however research on dental use of peppermint is limited.
A commonly recommended home dental remedy is to rinse the mouth with warm salty water. This solution is prepared by mixing one-half teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water, and stirring to dissolve. After swishing for 30 seconds, spit the solution out and repeat 1 or 2 more times. Avoid swallowing the salt water though, as it could upset your stomach. Salt water gargles can reduce inflammation and swelling, and may curb infection risk by reducing bacterial counts in the mouth. Since tooth and gum pain can be caused by infections or inflammation, salt water rinses may indirectly counter mouth pain.
The active ingredients in clove oil have anesthetic and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a review published in the June 2007 issue of “Phytotherapy Research.” Because of this preliminary research, clove oil is a common home treatment for dental pain. Directly applying 1 to 2 drops of this oil -- using a clean finger or with a cotton ball -- is a typical recommendation. The numbing benefits may last only a few minutes, and careful application is needed as this oil can also numb your tongue. A September-October 2015 review published in “Journal of International Society of Preventive and Community Dentistry” discussed the potential of essential oils including clove oil in dentistry, outlining that more studies are needed to confirm effectiveness and safety.
Other Home Remedies
If you seek the advice of family and friends, you may receive numerous tips on home treatments of dental pain. For instance, applying mashed garlic to the tooth or gums is touted to provide pain relief, since allicin -- the ingredient in garlic responsible for most of its health benefits -- is believed to have anesthetic properties. Another home remedy, not suitable for children or infants, is to apply bourbon-soaked cotton balls to the painful areas in the mouth. Other home remedies apply to the use of herbal therapies. An August 2013 article in “Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research” reviewed a dozen herbs that have been associated with a role in dentistry, however more human research is needed to understand safety, effectiveness and dosing of these home remedies.
Home pain management strategies can provide pain relief as natural healing of minor problems takes place, but these home remedies can also help ease your pain as you wait to see your dentist. While not all tooth and gum pain signals an urgent dental problem, any ongoing or severe mouth pain needs to be evaluated. When you call your dentist and set up an appointment, also get advice on ways to manage your pain. Also, call for an urgent appointment if you have a toothache or gum pain along with a fever, swelling or trouble breathing.
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research: Emerging Trends of Herbal Care in Dentistry
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Periodontal Disease
- Journal of the American Dental Association: Preventing and Treating Tooth Sensitivity
- Phytotherapy Research: The Chemical Composition and Biological Activity of Clove Essential Oil, Eugenia Caryophyllata (Syzigium Aromaticum L. Myrtaceae): A Short Review.
- Journal of International Society of Preventive and Community Dentistry: Essential Oils, Their Therapeutic Properties, and Implication in Dentistry: A Review
- Journal of Dental Applications: Management of Oral Health through Ayurvedic Methods
Cynthia Myers is the author of numerous novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University.