Over the Counter Treatments for a Tooth Ache

A toothache usually means a visit to the dentist. The pain could have any number of causes, from simple decay to a serious abscess, and should be checked out by a professional. But if the pain strikes on the weekend, in the evening or when you're out of town, you may have to wait hours or even a day or two for an appointment. Over-the-counter treatments can provide some relief in the meantime.

Pain Reliever

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help ease a painful tooth. In an article in "Backwoods Home Magazine," dentist Gary F. Arnet recommends 800 mg of ibuprofen every eight hours 2. The "Doctors Book of Home Remedies" has some advice about an old wives' tale. According to the book, placing an aspirin directly on the sore gum is a bad idea. Instead of easing pain, it will cause some of its own by irritating and burning the gum. Pain relief comes only through taking the medicine internally.

Oil of Cloves

Oil of cloves, also known as eugenol, is an ingredient in some over-the-counter toothache relievers, such as the brand names Red Cross Toothache Medicine and Dent's Toothache Drops. Drugstores may also carry the oil itself, according to the "Doctors Book of Home Remedies." A small amount of oil can be applied directly to the tooth or placed on a cotton ball and held to the aching gum, the book says. Dr. Arnet warns, however, that the potent oil should not be allowed to wander elsewhere in the mouth because it may cause chemical burns. Medline Plus, a website from the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, agrees that the oil poses some risk, saying that frequent application in the mouth can cause damage to the gums and other oral structures 4. The Food and Drug Administration no longer considers eugenol effective against toothache, citing a lack of evidence.


Benzocaine is the active ingredient in Orajel and Anbesol products for toothache pain, with concentrations ranging from 10 percent in regular strength formulas up to 20 percent in severe pain formulas 3. Dent's Toothache Drops also contain benzocaine, which numbs the nerves in the area where it's applied, providing pain relief for a time 3. Toothache sufferers should not use these products if they've ever had an allergic reaction to any anesthetic in the "caine" family -- that is, a word with the suffix "caine."