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MyView: 1 a.m. and my tooth hurts

November 19, 2012

By Bruce R. Terry, D.M.D.

Yesterday my first patient came in for an exam and treatment. She reported having "had a toothache for several days." The radiograph looked a little funny. She obviously had some type of occlusal decay in tooth #19. My assistant, Mary, came to me and warned me that the patient smelled a little funny.

I said, "Like body odor?" "No," she replied, "Something else." Upon my clinical examination, things seemed even more unusual. Something was in the decayed molar. With a spoon excavator I removed a paste-like substance that smelled like garlic. The odor was penetrating through my mask. My assistant pinched her mask above the bridge of her nose to indicate that she was trying to ward off the pungent odor.

I asked the patient about the history of her toothache and she reported that it started several months ago. At first she tried to ignore the problem. Then as the pain became more frequent she started to take ibuprofen. When the pain became more acute she tried Anbesol. Finally the pain became so severe in the middle of the night that she looked up toothache remedies on the Internet and read someone's posting who used a mix of garlic, olive oil and bread ("… mix into a ball and press into the tooth"). She said within 20 minutes the pain began to subside and she felt better. However, a few weeks later the pain returned and replacing the garlic, oil and bread mix only made her pain worse. Finally she decided to see a dentist.

I asked her why she waited so long and suffered all these months. She told me that she didn't have dental insurance or the money to see a dentist. She thought she would need a root canal and she had heard that they were very expensive. She delayed it as long as she could.

That night I decided to see what others where cooking in the kitchen to relieve their toothache. Numerous remedies are being recommended on the Internet, and to my surprise, everyone seems to have an answer. I found more toothache remedies than Martha Stewart kitchen tips. As dentists, we often hear that someone has tried to use Anbesol or oil of clove. I have had patients claim that crushing an aspirin tablet and putting it into a hole in the tooth is the answer. The Internet opened my eyes to what a person is willing to try to avoid having to see the dentist.

Here are some of the postings I found:

Country of Remedy: USA
Ingredients: Ginger Root
Instructions: Buy some Ginger Root at your grocery store. Cut off a piece of it and remove the skin. Put the piece in your mouth right on the painful tooth and bite down on it. The pain will go away immediately! My husband heard about this remedy and suggested it to a friend who had an abscessed tooth—and she said it worked instantly. My husband tried it himself last week on his horrible toothache, and the pain went away in one second! You may have to replace the Ginger in your mouth periodically with a fresh piece—but just keep the rest of the root you purchased in a container in your fridge, and you will always have it when you need it!
Editor's note: Add a little wasabi and let's see what happens!

Country of remedy: USA
Ingredients: Acupressure
Instructions: 1. On the sides of both index fingers. Just below the bottom of the fingernail apply even but FIRM pressure gently massaging it until pain goes away ... REALLY works. Do as often as necessary until pain subsides.
Editor's note: For more relief, dig fingernail into skin until bleeding appears. Make sure not to do this if you are taking blood thinners.

Country of remedy: Ireland
Ingredients: Vinegar, the solution to most of the world's problems!
Instructions: Cures toothache—soak cotton wool in vinegar, put into mouth where it hurts and bite down. Pain is temporarily gone. Cleans dentures. Leave in for 15 mins. Whitens teeth. Once a week dip a wet toothbrush in white vinegar and brush teeth (also cures bad breath), make sure when you take vinegar internally rinse your mouth out with plain water, as acid on teeth will damage teeth, oh and it'll clean your sink as well, removing calcium deposits!
Editor's note: Vinegar will also remove rust from your vintage automobile bumper or add a little baking soda for a nice homemade explosion!

Country of remedy: Canada
Ingredients: Cucumber
Instructions: Cut a good enough piece to fit on the tooth that is hurting or any pain on the body and it will take the pain away. P.S. Remember to make sure that it is refrigerated, it's a better soothing feeling (then get to the dentist as soon as you can).
Editor's note: I like the part about getting to your dentist.

Country of remedy: USA
Ingredients: Dried peppermint, salt water, (oats)
Instructions: Place a little wad of dried peppermint leaves around the tooth or abscess, spit out after a few minutes. If you repeat this several times during the day, it should bring the abscess to the surface, lance it with a pin and treat it again. Rinse with warm salt water. Oats will work to draw out an abscess, but peppermint relieves pain as well.
Editor's note: I like this as an alternative to garlic. Your breath will be minty fresh!

Country of remedy: USA
Ingredients: Bologna
Instructions: This is going to sound insane but this actually worked. Just chew on a piece of bologna for about 30 seconds and then swallow it or spit it out. It only gives you temporarily relief, but it does work and I don't know why … there must be some ingredient within it. I used standard Oscar Meyer bologna.
Editor's note: I think it works because it's kosher.

It just amazes me what someone will do to avoid going to the dentist. Bologna, cucumber, acupressure. I can understand that cost, fear or busyness prevents one from getting to the dentist, but people shouldn't believe everything they read. Wouldn't it be funny to post a comment that peanut butter is the best home remedy, or standing on one foot while juggling can take away a toothache? People would try it. They would do anything not to have to visit the dentist.

My patient left the office that day with a completed root canal treatment and a temporary restoration of cotton and Cavit. Unfortunately for the Internet browser, that was not one of the recommended remedies.

Dr. Terry is the editor of the Pennsylvania Dental Journal. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the January/February issue of that publication.