The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but the mouth is the window to the rest of the body. Toothache and other problems with teeth and gums can indicate health issues elsewhere. That’s because our oral cavities are teeming with bacteria. An infection that starts here can easily travel to other areas of the body and increase the risk of developing serious health issues. You wouldn’t think cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and pregnancy and childbirth complications would be associated with dental health, but they can be.
If your teeth are tender from a dental cleaning or you commonly experience a twinge after that first bite of ice cream, it’s probably not cause for alarm. Even canker sores on the gums, while painful, usually clear up on their own. But tooth or gum pain that’s unusual for you means something’s amiss in the mouth. Your first step should be to call your dentist, says Alice Boghosian, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the American Dental Association and dentist in private practice in Illinois.
All of our experts agree: No at-home treatment should replace professional dental care. But here are a few natural remedies for toothaches until your visit.
Herbal treatments for toothaches
When there’s a problem with a tooth, the area around it often becomes inflamed, adding more pressure and pain, says certified herbalist Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., R.N, AHG. Try these tips to reduce swelling:
Salt water–peroxide rinse
Salt and peroxide can reduce inflammation and kill bacteria. Mix 1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide and ½ teaspoon pink Himalayan or sea salt to a cup of very warm water. Swish the rinse around the sore area several times a day, for 30 to 60 seconds each time. Spit it out when you’ve finished (don’t swallow it).
Tea bag compress
Camellia sinensis—the herb in black, green, and white teas—has astringent properties, relieving pressure by contracting swollen tissue. Moisten a tea bag in hot water, and then apply it to the affected area for a few minutes. Repeat every few hours. You can use any kind of tea, but opt for decaf if you’re caffeine-sensitive or it’s close to bedtime. Mint tea bags will work, too, as peppermint leaves contain pain-relieving menthol.
Ayurvedic remedies for toothaches
“While waiting for an appointment to see your dentist, give these time-tested Ayurvedic home remedies a try,” says Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, an Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher.
Clove is a well-known therapy for all sorts of pain, especially toothache. “It works quickly to gently numb and soothe tooth and gum aches. [It has been] used for centuries for its natural analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties,” says Carlson. (One caution: Avoid clove for children or if you’re pregnant.)
To use clove oil: Mix 2–3 drops of organic clove oil with 1 teaspoon organic coconut or sesame oil. Dip a clean cotton ball into the mixture. Wipe the oil over the painful tooth or hold the cotton ball on it for about 2 minutes. Reapply every 2–3 hours, or as needed.
To use dried whole clove: Herbalist Kamhi says to insert one “nail” of dried whole clove near the painful tooth and leave it in place for a few hours (or for as long as you can tolerate it).
Ayurvedic oil swishing (also called pulling) can support deep oral cleaning, reduce bad breath or dry mouth, strengthen gums, and improve overall oral health, Carlson says. After brushing and flossing, swish a tablespoon of organic sesame oil in the mouth for 2–10 minutes. Spit it out in the garbage or into a tissue—not down the drain, as oil can clog pipes. Wait 30 minutes before eating or drinking. Try organic sunflower or coconut oil instead as a cooling, refreshing substitute.
Boghosian thinks all out-of-the-ordinary toothaches or gum pain warrants a call to your dentist. “For a lay person, it’s hard to determine exactly what requires more intervention and what requires less intervention,” she says. “Even when I have experienced tooth pain, I’ve misdiagnosed myself.”
While you wait for your check-up, take care of those troublesome teeth or gums:
If you have a mild toothache, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or another over-the-counter pain reliever is OK to take temporarily, Boghosian says, as long as you don’t have any contraindications with other health conditions or medications you’re taking. If the pain is in your gums, applying an oral numbing gel could help, too.
And nothing beats good, consistent oral hygiene. While it might not help an existing ache or be a 100 percent guarantee against any dental issues, Boghosian says, sticking to the basics goes a long way to preventing pain and other problems: Brush teeth twice a day for 2 minutes. Floss or use an interdental device to clean between teeth once a day. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. See your dentist for regular cleanings and check-ups, and to scope out any pain or problems you’re having between visits.