Known for the throbbing pain they cause in your tooth, jaw, neck, or ear, tooth abscesses can be extremely painful and should be treated by your dentist immediately.
If you can’t get to a dentist immediately, here are a few home remedies for tooth abscess pain. These might get you through a few hours or even a few days until you can get in to see a dentist for permanent treatment.
1. Over-the-counter pain medications
Most people have one or more forms of headache tablets or muscle-ache relievers in their bathroom or medicine cabinet. These can be used as a first defense against the pain of abscessed teeth. They can reduce inflammation inside your tooth.
Never place an aspirin or other oral tablet directly on an abscessed tooth or on the gums. This can burn the tissue and cause the pain to increase. Aspirin is effective when swallowed as directed; it can be harmful if used topically.
When used as directed, it can provide some relief from abscess tooth pain. Pain that lasts longer than that or gets worse requires treatment by a dentist.
2. Clove oil
Folk medicine practitioners and dentists alike have used clove oil for the treatment of toothaches for years. Available from most pharmacies or health food stores, the oil can provide relief from pain and numb the area where applied.
3. Toothache gels
Drug stores and grocery stores sell products that are designed to help alleviate tooth pain, including pain caused by abscesses. They use ingredients such as clove oil, eugenol, and benzocaine to numb and soothe the affected areas. Although the relief is only temporary, it might just get you through a few days until you can see a dentist.
4. Ice packs
Ice helps reduce swelling for abscessed teeth just like it helps overworked muscles. Placing an ice pack against the face in the areas where the abscess is located for 10 to 15 minutes can help the pain and lower the swelling.
5. Warm salt water rinses
Mix a teaspoon of table salt into warm water. Stir to dissolve the salt completely. Rinse with the mixture for one minute then spit it out. People have used salt water rinses for decades to kill bacteria and reduce swelling.
6. Peppermint tea bags
Some patients find pain relief by wetting a cool peppermint tea bag and placing it over the abscess. The soothing effect of this home remedy may be due to the coolness of the wet bag rather than any actual therapeutic action of the peppermint. This is a treatment that certainly will not make the abscess worse.
How can a dentist provide permanent relief from a tooth abscess?
Some treatments that a dentist can provide to get rid of an abscess include the following:
- Antibiotics to kill the bacteria that are causing the infection
- Draining the abscess
- Cleaning out the abscess if it is caused by gum disease
- Root canal therapy to clean out the infected nerves and blood vessels
- Extracting (pulling) the tooth
When you go to your dentist with an abscessed tooth, they will first examine the area and take an X-ray. The X-ray will allow them to see inside the gums and bone. An abscess appears as a fluid-filled sac around the roots of the teeth.
Once your dentist has confirmed that an abscess is present, you will have some choices to make. Ideally, your dentist can begin a procedure called a root canal. Your dentist may open the tooth to access the infected nerve and blood supply that is causing the abscess. This allows the pus to drain and releases the pressure caused by the abscess.
After draining the tooth and removing all the infected tissue from inside the tooth, the dentist then places a soothing sedative filling in the tooth to seal it up and allow the infection to heal. In a few days, you will return to the office to have a permanent crown placed over the tooth to protect it and keep it from getting re-infected.
That is the ideal treatment for an abscessed tooth. Sometimes, due to finances, lack of dental insurance, or a poor prognosis for success, a root canal and crown are not possible. Instead, the dentist must pull the tooth.
What is a tooth abscess?
An abscess is an infection of a tooth that forms a bacteria-filled sac around the roots of the tooth. Bacteria then invade the nerve of the tooth, causing infection and inflammation inside your tooth. Eventually, this infection can kill the tooth from the inside. If an abscess goes untreated, it will eventually lead to an infection in the jawbone and the surrounding tissue.
Here are some common symptoms of an abscessed tooth.
- Pain: throbbing; pain on chewing food; sensitivity to hot and cold
- Fever: indicates that your body is fighting an infection
- Bad taste: sour; pungent; smelly
- Redness: in the gums: Bleeding; tenderness when brushing
- Swelling: in the cheeks and face; sometimes in the neck, which is the most dangerous type and sometimes requires a visit to the ER
Causes of tooth abscesses include decay (cavities), gum disease, a cracked tooth, or trauma. When one or more of these conditions is present, bacteria have an opportunity to enter the tooth, infect the nerve tissue, and will eventually kill the nerves and blood supply to the tooth—essentially killing the tooth.
How can I avoid getting an abscessed tooth?
Cavities occur when bacteria living in the sticky film, called plaque, on your teeth attack the hard enamel coating of a tooth. The bacteria begin to feed on the tooth enamel, causing weak places and holes to develop.
Regular dental checkups allow your dentist to detect cavities at their earliest stages. Sometimes, the application of fluoride varnish or gel can stop early decay in its initial stages. Dentists can repair small cavities easily with traditional fillings. When cavities are ignored and allowed to spread into the interior of the teeth, abscesses frequently occur.
Keeping your teeth cleaned daily with a toothbrush and floss, visiting your dentist for regular checkups, and eating a healthy diet with a minimum of sugar and simple carbohydrates are the best methods for avoiding tooth decay and the abscesses that can follow. Daily removal of plaque with a toothbrush and dental floss helps to ensure that you do not get cavities.
Abscesses caused by gum disease are somewhat different than those caused by decay.
When bacterial plaque becomes thick and works its way down below the gum line onto the roots of the teeth, an abscess can form in the gum tissue. Swelling, redness, and tenderness to the touch are classic signs of a gum abscess.
Your dentist or dental hygienist will need to numb the area and clean all the debris and bacteria out from under the gums. In some cases, the gum abscess is so deep or so large that the tooth will not respond to treatment, and having your dentist pull it may be your only choice.
Like the methods for avoiding cavities, you can also prevent gum disease by daily brushing and flossing. Removing bacteria and plaque from between the teeth and under the gums are the key actions you can take to prevent abscesses caused by gum disease.
Cracked tooth or trauma
An injury or trauma to a tooth that causes the tooth to crack may lead to an abscess. Sometimes, the abscess does not appear for many months or even years after the injury occurs.
A dentist will take an X-ray of the area to see if the crack is just in the outer layer of enamel or if it extends into the nerves of the tooth. If an abscess is the result of a crack or injury, the tooth will need root canal therapy, exactly like required for abscesses caused by decay. The tooth will need a crown for protection after the dentist completes the root canal therapy.
Avoiding dental injuries is similar to avoiding other types of trauma. Wearing seatbelts when driving or riding in an car; wearing helmets when operating bicycles, ATVs, motorcycles, and other open-air vehicles; using sturdy step ladders and grab bars to avoid falls; and wearing mouthguards when participating in sports are all good ways to ensure you do not get tooth abscesses due to cracked teeth or trauma.
Protecting your smile
A dental abscess is one of the most painful infections you can experience. While home remedies for abscess tooth pain can help for a while, the only long-lasting treatment for an abscessed tooth comes from your dentist.
Whether you need a simple round of antibiotics, a deep cleaning for a gum abscess, a root canal followed by a crown, or to have the offending tooth pulled, only a dentist can provide the care you need.
For temporary relief, you should keep home remedies like pain medications, warm salt water rinses, oil of cloves, and toothache gels and ointments readily available.
The best way to ensure you don’t need home remedies or dental treatment for emergency abscesses is to take good care of your teeth daily and have regular checkups so that small problems can be detected and treated in the early stages. Keeping your teeth healthy and protecting your smile for a lifetime means avoiding decay, gum disease, dental trauma, and the abscesses that might follow.
Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.