I recently returned from a trip to the endodontist, who spent about 1 ½ hours sticking cotton blasted with freezing compressed air onto an exceedingly painful tooth while swearing up and down he wasn’t trying to torture me. Uh huh. Anyways, I was informed I would need a root canal but to wait until the pain localized so they knew which one to dig into, and was sent off with some prescription strength anti-inflammatories. Overall, an extremely productive visit.
Of course, the pain had started when I had no access to a dentist-late on a Friday night-and was due to head up to the woods the next week. I am not alone in this-many people get hit with tooth pain at the worst times. Nighttime is an opportune moment toothaches like to strike, as lying down can change blood flow and pressure to the area, increasing pain. Other times are weekends, when everything is closed. There is no scientific reason for this-life just wants to bite you in the butt sometimes.
Tooth pain can be caused by a number of problems, such as gum disease, a cracked tooth, an abnormal bite, or if you grind your teeth. For all intents and purposes, we’re going to be focused on tooth pain caused by tooth decay, as that is the most common root cause (pun very much intended), although these remedies will help with pain from a variety of causes.
The tooth is made up of four layers-enamel, dentin, cementum, and the pulp. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and is highly mineralized and brittle. It makes up the outside of the tooth. Beneath the enamel is dentin, a more flexible supportive tissue that is softer than enamel. Under the dentin is cementum, which is a bone-like substance that is highly specialized and covers the root of a tooth. It is softer than dentin and enamel, and its primary function is to serve as a medium that the periodontal ligaments (essentially specialized tissue that connects the tooth to the jaw bone) can attach to the tooth for stability. Finally we have the pulp, the central part of the tooth filled with soft connective tissue rich in blood vessels and nerves.
A cavity is the result of bacteria in the mouth, and its reaction to sugars and starches. As bacteria break down the sugars and starches, sticky plaque filled with acids form over the tooth. If left unchecked, plaque can form tartar, which cannot easily be brushed away. These acids eat away at the tooth enamel, and unless they are reversed, will continue to eat away at the tooth until the pulp becomes infected. It is when the pulp is infected that a root canal becomes necessary to prevent the spread of infection and an abscess.
It’s important to get to a dentist ASAP to identify the cause before it progresses, but these remedies will help ease the ache until you can.
1. Use Cloves
Cloves contain a substance called eugenol, which is a powerful antiseptic and painkiller. Cloves were used by dentists well before modern dentistry developed, and eugenol, in an extracted purified form, is still used today. In fact, it is a main constituent of the stuff a dentist will swab on your gums to numb the area because administering Novocain or lidocaine. While it’s mechanism of action has yet to be totally understood, despite its prevalence in the dentist’s office, it is thought to act on certain pain receptors, blocking them and thus blocking the sensation of pain. There are several different methods of application, which you can read more about by following the link below.
You will need…
-The ability to click on the link below
Normally I avoid alcohol in my remedies if at all possible, but you know what? Sometimes, it’s a great remedy. Especially when it comes to surviving excruciating pain until the dentist is open. You’ll read a number of conflicting view points on whether or not it actually numbs pain, but I for one think it does. I can’t trump the American Dental Association, which claims there is no basis to the remedy, but I can attest to personal experience. Ingesting alcohol doesn’t numb pain in a direct sense, but it can slow down the responses of the central nervous system-including the transmission of pain. When applied topically (this remedy does not call for drinking) it probably doesn’t affect the CNS, but it does seem to do something to numb the area. It’s long been old wives remedy, but it’s a good one.
You will need…
-Whiskey or Bourbon
-A cotton ball
Soak the cotton ball in the alcohol, and squeeze out the excess so it isn’t dripping all over the place. Pack it in by the sore tooth and let it sit. Repeat as necessary. If you’d rather not put a whole cotton ball in there, soak a cotton swab in the alcohol and swab it over the gum around the sore tooth.
3. Peppermint oil
A good dose of peppermint essential oil can do the trick when it comes to numbing tooth pain. A whopping 3,000 tons of menthol, the naturally occurring constituent in peppermint, are manufactured annually to be used in over the counter pain relieving, gels, creams, rubs, and sprays. It’s one of nature’s most effective pain killers. A type of molecule known as a ligand, present in the menthol, attaches itself to a protein known as the k-opioid receptor (KOR.) KORs are one of four receptors that bind opiate-like compounds in the brain, and control the effects of those compounds. Among the effects is the perception of pain-basically, KOR agonists are analgesic. Menthol is a KOR agonist, naturally occurring in mint, which is what makes it such an effective pain blocker. In addition to this, it can desensitize a region through TRPM8, also known as the cold menthol receptor. If you’d like the full name for that, it’s transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily M member 8. You can whip that out next time someone brings up anything minty.
Menthol does not actually change temperature-the activation of the TRPM8 simply “tricks” the brain into registering a cold sensation.
You will need…
-Pure peppermint essential oil
-Cotton balls or cotton swabs
Mix 10-15 drops of peppermint essential oil into 2 tablespoons of neutral oil (grapeseed, olive oil, etc.) It’s important to dilute the oil first so as to avoid any irritation. Soak a cotton ball in the oil and pack it around the sore tooth, or soak a cotton swab and swab the gum surrounding the sore tooth. Repeat as needed.
4. Saltwater Rinse
This is a repeat of a remedy in the Everyday Roots book, and it is one worth repeating, as it can really help a sore tooth heal after a procedure, or ease pain before you can get the tooth checked out. To understand it, here’s a very simplified version of what goes down as decay is eating away at your tooth. Bacteria in the mouth feeds off of sugars in the diet-namely sucrose. When it breaks down the sugar, it produces lactic acid. This lactic acid eats away at the enamel, into the dentin, and so on until the pulp becomes infected. The infection can then spread and turn into an abscess or what have you. The salt, however, helps to neutralize the lactic acid. This can slow the process of decay significantly, and also relieve pain. The warm salt water will also help contract inflamed tissues as it draws excess fluid out of them, further easing discomfort.
You will need…
-1 cup of warm salt water
-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Mix the salt into a glass of warm water. Swish the water around for 1 minute, then spit it out. Repeat until the glass is gone. You can do this as many times a day as needed until you can get to the dentist.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get to the bottom of the problem before it gets worse. While going to the dentist may seem like a not so great (and expensive) experience you’d rather avoid, you will only end up suffering, and paying, way more in the long run when you let the problem go. These remedies are only to help get you through until you can get professional help.
( Read this next: 11 Home Remedies to Get Rid of Canker Sores )
By Claire GoodallClaire is a lover of life, the natural world, and wild blueberries. On the weekend you can find her fiddling in the garden, playing with her dogs, and enjoying the great outdoors with her horse. Claire is very open-minded, ask her anything :) Meet Claire
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