Dealing with a toothache.
December 2, 2005 10:57 PM   Subscribe

Make it stop hurting-filter: How can I deal with my horrible toothache until I can go to the dentist?

My mouth is in pain, I take pain reliever (tylenol knock off) and it goes away for 2-3 hours then comes back with a vengence. Now, I know I need to go to the dentist, and probably shouldn't have put it off this long, but what can I do to keep myself from going crazy from the pain?
posted by dial-tone to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried dabbing it with Clove Oil? It tastes gross but it's a topical anaesthetic.
posted by fshgrl at 11:05 PM on December 2, 2005

You can also just stick a whole clove (the kind you can get in the spice rack of any grocery store) between your cheek and gum, just like Skoal.

I once had the world's worst toothache and didn't have dental insurance, and this worked amazingly well to keep the pain at bay.

I always wondered if it would work better if you ground up the cloves in a spice or coffee grinder. It might be worth a shot.
posted by melorama at 11:12 PM on December 2, 2005

Maximum daily dose of acetaminophen (Tylenol) is 4000mg, max daily dose of ibuprofen (Advil) is 3200mg. Chug 'em. Hopefully your dentist appointment is in a few days? Many dentists will make same-day appointments, FWIW, though you may have less luck on the weekend.
posted by trevyn at 11:15 PM on December 2, 2005

Orajel might help as a topical too.

You might be on the right track if you find that Tylenol is helping reliably. You don't mention dosage, but recommended maximum daily dosage is 4000mg, or 2000mg if you have liver problems or alcoholism. If you can stay under that keeping things under control with Tylenol for a couple of days until you can get to the dentist then you should be fine. Avoid the temptation to distract yourself from the pain with alcohol while you're taking Tylenol.

(I've suffered from sensitive teeth forever, but not outright toothaches; I rarely needed Orajel but my dentist recommended it in case of a particularly bad episode. Tylenol dosage info from the package and confirmed here.)
posted by mendel at 11:18 PM on December 2, 2005

Never tried this myself, but I remember an infomercial from like 15 years ago saying, "Got a toothace? Massage your hand with ice!" Worth a shot. I know what that pain is like, and personally I'd just keep popping Tylenols.
posted by knave at 11:19 PM on December 2, 2005

Careful combining tylenol and alcohol - it's very bad for your liver. Also, I've had other mouth pain that's been severe and orajel works OK, so combining that with the internal pain relievers or as an alternative to clove may work.
posted by lorrer at 11:20 PM on December 2, 2005

Having dealt with the problem of crowding (small jaw structure, too many teeth) causing problems, along with TMJ, I also recommend the clove/clove oil. It's pretty foul, but it works. Also the Ibuprofen, which is a great anti inflammatory - I take the prescription dosage of 800mg and it works well for me.
posted by mewithoutyou at 11:31 PM on December 2, 2005

Just as a caution, don't overdo it on ibuprofen. It's sold in giant jars and seems very harmless but you can damage your liver with large frequent doses. Obey the directions and it will do everything it safely do for you.
posted by scarabic at 11:39 PM on December 2, 2005 will do everything it safely can do for you.
posted by scarabic at 11:39 PM on December 2, 2005

I third the clove suggestion. It can also be brewed into a tea, either by itself or with some black tea and other spices, like a chai.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:47 PM on December 2, 2005

Hit up a 24 hr pharmacy for some Orajel or other novocaine substrate, until you can visit a dentist.
posted by Rothko at 11:49 PM on December 2, 2005

Your dentist may be willing to phone in a prescription for pain medication for you to use until you can get in to see him/her. Mine was, under similar circumstances.
posted by bac at 11:52 PM on December 2, 2005

If it's a cavity, get some Dentemp.
posted by brujita at 12:12 AM on December 3, 2005

Go online and order yourself some serious painkillers from places like, etc. They arrive the next day and I've seen places where you can get tylenol 3 (given to mothers during pregnancy).
posted by xammerboy at 12:29 AM on December 3, 2005

(I've heard) that if you have any cocaine handy, you can rub it on a tooth and the pain will stop.

Cocaine was very much a medicinal drug in the old days, and was called "The Rich Man's Aspirin".
posted by Dag Maggot at 1:56 AM on December 3, 2005

i had a friend who always tried to avoid going to the dentist and he swore on rinsing with high proof rum
posted by suni at 2:00 AM on December 3, 2005

Go to the chemist and get some nova/ligno-caine based teeting ointment/liquid (my Australian stuff is called seda-gel lotion). Cocaine is also a effective local anasthetic, but that has purity and legality implications, and is probably more expensive (also more effective, directly applied to the painful area, not to the nose).
posted by singingfish at 2:38 AM on December 3, 2005

I had a bad abcess in a tooth while travelling on business. I kept functioning by placing soluble aspirin between the gum and my cheek.
I found this much more effective that paracetemol or ibuprofen.
That said, for the short amount of time between now and seeing a doctor I would cycle all three to their max doses.
posted by bystander at 2:52 AM on December 3, 2005

If it's a cavity, cold may help.
The pain may be from a buildup of pressure inside the tooth, and cold lowers the pressure. A stopgap measure to be sure!
See "Tampopo" for a scene where a tooth is drilled into, and the room is filled with horrible tooth gas, requiring the windows to be thrown open.
posted by Aknaton at 3:10 AM on December 3, 2005

For short-term relief when things get really grim, crushed ice in a bag pressed to your cheek or jaw by the tooth might numb the pain significantly. I once had to do this and it's not complete relief, obviously, but it will certainly ease the worst of the sharp pain.
posted by normy at 4:03 AM on December 3, 2005

I had a cracked tooth with exposed nerve and it was tremendously painful. Along with ibuprofin, I found that holding warm water in my mouth stopped the pain. However it was a mixed blessing, because if I stopped with the water the pain came back even worse. I was stuck sitting up all night with a mouth full of warm water.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:37 AM on December 3, 2005

totally off topic: tampopo is probably the best movie ever made.. ok, it lacked ninjas but compensated this with gourmet bums
posted by suni at 5:49 AM on December 3, 2005

"Just rub ice on the back of your hand, on the V-shaped webbed area between your thumb and index finger. A Canadian study found that this technique reduces toothache pain by as much as 50 percent compared with using no ice. The nerve pathways at the base of that V stimulate an area of the brain that blocks pain signals from the face and hands."

(via Men's Health)

Just came across that. Doesn't sound too practical to me, but it doesn't sound like it would hurt to try.
posted by bryak at 6:01 AM on December 3, 2005

Call the dentist back, explain the level of pain you are in. (Some are open saturdays, at least early morning.) Seriously, my best friend is a dental assistant, and previously worked the front desk for many many years, and she's been able to get people in same or next day, or even call in prescriptions for them to hold them over until they can get you in. If you're in this much pain, I'd say it's an emergency...and should be treated as such.

Good luck!
posted by sarahmelah at 7:18 AM on December 3, 2005

Exederin Migrane Formula. It totally rules. Also, if you have a toothache becuase of an infected tooth, call up your dentist and have him prescribe you an antibiotic. That helps as well.

I would stay away from the Orajel though. While it numbs you up, I always found that it seemed like the pain came back a little heavier when it wore off...
posted by punkrockrat at 8:05 AM on December 3, 2005

Will Anbesol work, or should I stick with orajel?
posted by dial-tone at 8:33 AM on December 3, 2005

Just as a caution, don't overdo it on ibuprofen. It's sold in giant jars and seems very harmless but you can damage your liver with large frequent doses. Obey the directions and it will do everything it safely do for you.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) can damage the liver; ibuprofen(Advil) and other NSAIDs can damage the kidneys.
posted by gramcracker at 8:51 AM on December 3, 2005

Brushing with Sensodyne toothpaste has helped me over the long-term. (It's got titanium, or something exciting like that, in it.)
posted by chefscotticus at 9:01 AM on December 3, 2005

In addition to the above, eat something, esp. carbohydrates. Everything hurts more when you're hungry. A hot salt-water rinse may also help.
posted by words1 at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2005

Anbesol and Orajel have the same active ingredient, Benzocaine. One thing to watch out for - Anbesol has an alcohol base, so on open wounds it'll hurt like a MOFO until the benzocaine kicks in, so expect a couple seconds of hurting bad. I find that once the Benzocaine does kick in it works better than Orajel, but you'll have to keep applying either product as the anaesthetic effect doesn't last all that long.

On the pressure point on the hand, I treat my own headaches with that pressure point all the time, and have for 20+ years. I even have made myself a pair of spring clamps to clip on and keep the pressure on those points until my headache subsides.

That being said, make a call and get some medicine.
posted by ctp at 10:27 AM on December 3, 2005

You poor thing. Orajel definitely. But treat it as an emergency, as others have said. Dentist ASAP, even if your own can't see you straightaway. If your face starts to swell in the tooth area, don't just tough it out but call your dentist again straightaway.
posted by paperpete at 10:31 AM on December 3, 2005

Just as a caution, don't overdo it on ibuprofen. It's sold in giant jars and seems very harmless but you can damage your liver with large frequent doses. Obey the directions and it will do everything it safely do for you.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) can damage the liver; ibuprofen(Advil) and other NSAIDs can damage the kidneys.

And the stomach lining. However, the dose of ibuprofen used in typical clinical trials was much higher than than you get over-the-counter. A doctor told me to take 3 200 mg pills every 4 hours when I had an inflamed eustachian tube. My understanding is that for short periods of time, like a weekend, such doses of ibuprofen are fairly safe; kidney damage requires sustained doses over a period of years. The ulcers will come quicker but not over a weekend. It's the acetaminophen that'll really get you if you go over the limit, especially if you've had any alcohol -- it could easily happen over a weekend.

You can take ibuprofen (or naproxen, another NSAID) and acetaminophen together, as they work in different ways and are complementary. (This is why there's a prescription version of Tylenol with codeine in it, available OTC in Canada.) If you do this, I recommend the naproxen, because its 12-hour dosing schedule works well with acetaminophen's 6-hour dosing schedule. Ibuprofen you'll want to take every 4 hours, and that will drift in and out of sync with the acetaminophen. The naproxen is even harder on your stomach lining than the ibuprofen, but you shouldn't notice that over a weekend.

(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.)
posted by kindall at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2005

When I had an abcess, which eventually led to a root canal, my dentist prescribed some antibiotics over the phone. It's part of the normal pre-treatment for root canal, but it also has the beneficial effect of reducing that horrific throbbing pain, so much so that you'd think the problem itself was solved. Of course it wasn't, but it allowed me to function and sleep normally for the several days until I could get scheduled in for the (awfully-long) root canal procedure.
posted by baltimore at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2005


Nerve/tooth pain is very unique, and does not respond well to OTC painkillers. You might get like a few hours of relief, and will only have to medicate again in a few short hours. The volume of medicine to pain will never be conquered until you get something prescription like coedine or vicodin.

I had a similar problem this past summer that needed attention, but it occured on friday, and the office didn't open until monday. I had never been through anything like that pain before, so I relied on a mix of tylenol, excederin, and advil to hold me over the weekend. I tried a mix of all three. I ended-up still in pain, but sick to my stomach. I got so sick on OTC drugs, that i had to be prescribed somthing that settled my stomach enough FIRST before i could start my prescription painkiller.

Please, call your dentist. With no office hours, there will be a medical service that fields your call. Explain the problem, and that you need pain therapy. That it's an emergency and you are in dire pain. Dentists know that the type of tooth pain is so servere, and they are therefore very liberal and leinient with prescriptions. The dentist will hopefully call you right away, and call in a prescription to your pharmacy. I got tylenol with coedine, and only had to take like 1/2 a pill, as opposed to like 10 tylenol. Seriously, you will make yourself sick...

hang in there...the pain is horrid, i know, and just never goes away until you get your root canal or extraction.
posted by naxosaxur at 3:09 PM on December 3, 2005

Try directly applying (a flat tooth pick works) any antibiotic you have on hand, Smash it into a powder if it is in pill form. This works immediately and really totally stops the pain.
posted by JohnR at 6:50 PM on December 3, 2005

Do you have an established dentist, or will you be a new patient on monday?

If you are a patient already there may be an answering service (or a home number for the dentist) that you can reach/get by calling the regular office number. If you are an established patient the dentist should be very nice about calling in an antibiotic (make sure to remind him/her if you are allergic to anything, as they won't have immediate access to your chart and a penicillin allergy is never pleasant).

If you are going to be a new patient on monday, be prepared to sign up for a cleaning and a full exam in the very near future. In Florida (and I would imagine, most places) the doctor is not legally allowed to call in a prescription for you without having ever examined you. Also, be prepared for the extra expense of an emergency exam, plus xray of the tooth in question.

Good luck.
posted by bilabial at 8:38 PM on December 3, 2005

Dial-tone...i'm going through the same thing now...delirious with pain--to the point where i tried pulling it out myself (fingers slipped and i ended up just flicking the tooth so hard i almost passed out in pain)...i also tried injecting ambesol directly into the damn gum/root (this actually seemed to work...though sadly only for a little while).
posted by whatgorilla at 2:37 PM on January 2, 2006

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