When bacteria and plaque eat away at the outer surface of your tooth, the sensitive inner portion of the tooth, called the pulp, may eventually be exposed. When the pulp comes in contact with foods that are sweet or extreme in temperature, chances are you’ll feel a sharp twinge and ongoing pain. Unfortunately, there is no home remedy for a severe toothache. You can take steps to temporarily relieve the pain, but to treat the source of the problem, you’ll have to see a dentist.

Rinse and Floss

To treat a toothache, the American Dental Association recommends first rinsing your mouth with warm water 1. This helps clean away lingering food particles that may be irritating a decayed tooth. Use dental floss to gently remove additional food particles stuck between your teeth. In some cases, simply removing the irritating food particle will allow the toothache to subside.

Topical Antiseptic

Over-the-counter oral antiseptics can help reduce or remove toothache pain temporarily. Make sure the formula’s active ingredient is benzocaine. Apply the antiseptic directly to the source of pain. Depending on the amount of pain you’re in, you may want to use a topical antiseptic before brushing, rinsing or flossing. If you skip any of these daily hygiene basics because of tooth pain, the decay that’s causing the pain will only worsen over time.

Over-the-Counter Pain Reliever

If your toothache is severe enough to cause pain in your jaw or give you a headache, a topical antiseptic might not treat all your pain. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever instead, such as ibuprofin or acetaminophen. Always follow the dosage limits provided by the manufacturer; remember, the pills provide only temporary pain relief until you can get to a dentist.

Clove Oil

Clove oil, also called eugenol, has a long history of use as an anesthetic. It’s used in dental cement and fillings because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. According to the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, clove oil gets a grade of “B” when it comes to treating dental pain, based on scientific testing for use in humans and animals. To use it, dip a cotton ball or swab in clove oil and hold it against the source of the pain.

Use a Toothpick

As cringe-inducing as it may sound, sometimes food particles lodged just below your gum line are the culprit when it comes to a severe toothache. Some foods, such as popcorn, contain fibers that don’t break down—they simply sit and decay, causing infection and pain. Inspect the gum line in the affected area. If you see food particles that brushing and rinsing can’t remove, run a toothpick tip around the gum line. It may be able to pull up food particles your toothbrush missed.

Ice the Area

As with other injuries that cause pain and occasional swelling, icing the area can help. Hold a resealable plastic bag filled with ice to the source of pain for 10 to 20 minutes, repeating by hour as necessary. The cold can reduce inflammation and act as a numbing agent to dull tooth pain.