A cartoon character might treat a toothache by wrapping a cloth bandage under his jaw and tying it at the top of his head. But while this is sometimes still used as a common visual example of tooth pain, it's based on a long-passed method of bandaging the jaw to relieve dental soreness. Historians aren't entirely sure what the purpose of the practice was. Most believe it was to hold a poultice (a moist salve comprised of bread, cereal or mashed beans or beets) in place. Of course the treatment, which can be traced back to ancient Babylon, could've also been used to warm the cheek or keep evil spirits from the face and mouth [source: Wynbrandt].
Head bandages weren't the only unusual practice for treating toothaches. From cloth-wrapped hot bricks to chloroform-soaked cotton balls, history is filled with desperate attempts to end dental discomfort [sources: Steele; Ritter, et. al]. Historical records show that the Chinese used arsenic pills placed between the teeth to help ease pain [source: Wynbrandt]. Siberians came up with a debatably more desirable treatment, which involved gargling a garlic-vodka solution several times a day [source: Kourenoff].
Fortunately for you, you live in the 21st century -- and you're not an animated character. And luckily, there are many proven, nontoxic methods of treating toothaches. So if you're experiencing a painful ache in your teeth and gums, leave the cloth bandage, arsenic and chloroform alone, and try one of the remedies on the following pages.