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.
Prevention may be all well and good before your toothache, but what happens after the pain is already present? Well, it may not be possible to go back in time to that fateful moment you chomped the wrong way on a popcorn kernel, but you can prevent further agony by staying away from certain foods and beverages.
For starters, try to avoid chewing anything in the area of your mouth where you have pain or tooth damage. And while some people may find that ice helps numb the pain of a toothache, experts recommend you avoid very cold or hot foods and beverages. If your teeth are sensitive, extreme temperatures can increase your pain. So, until your toothache improves, you should rule out hot chocolates and iced mochas. It's also best to steer clear of chewing ice, hard candy and popcorn. If you don't, you may end up with a broken tooth -- a problem that can cause you even more tooth pain.
Watching what you put in your mouth makes sense. However, it may be a little harder to understand how the remedy on the next page helps toothaches. Many, though, have found it effective. Keep reading to learn more.
The key to easing your toothache may be in your hands rather than in your mouth. Believe it or not, rubbing an ice cube on the webbed area of your hand between your thumb and index finger can help reduce the pain of a toothache [source: Melzack, et al.]. This section of the hand is known in acupressure as the L14 pressure point, which is recognized in alternative medicine as a spot that interacts with pain in various regions of the body. While massage or pressure in the L14 region may be helpful, researchers believe that the use of ice is crucial in reducing dental pain because it causes cold signals that interfere with pain signals [source: Melzack, et. al]. To try this nontraditional treatment, gently rub ice over the L14 pressure point for five to seven minutes. You should also make sure you focus on the hand that's on the same side of your body as your toothache.
Ice may also be helpful a little closer to the source of your pain. As we mentioned on the previous page, putting something cold in your mouth could increase your agony. But, pressing an ice pack to the cheek closest to your toothache could help reduce the soreness. If you find this method to be helpful, try repeating it three or four times a day until your pain subsides.
Acupressure is an ancient practice, and our next remedy isn't exactly new either. In fact, those with tooth pain have been using it for well over a century -- if not longer. See the next page to find out more about it.
In a 1910 journal of home health treatments titled "Mother's Remedies," the authors touted clove oil (aka oil of cloves) as a toothache therapy that provided almost instant pain relief [source: Ritter, et. al]. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and dental experts are still recommending this homespun treatment.
Oil derived from clove buds has natural analgesic properties. It's an organic alternative to pharmaceutical pain relievers, but it can still be found at many drugstores. If your pharmacy doesn't carry it, you're likely to find it at your local health and nutrition store. Once you have the oil, you can soak a cotton ball with it, place the cotton in the sore area of your mouth and gently bite down. Clove oil is safe to ingest, but it may burn your gums a little.
This pain-relieving substance has other benefits, too. You might find that it also helps prevent future cavities and reduces bad breath.
The remedy on the following page uses an even more commonly found product.
So often we hear about the negative effects salt has on our bodies -- its role in raising blood pressure, for instance. However, the mineral compound has many healing properties as well. One helpful benefit of salt is that it can help ease a toothache.
Preparing this treatment is easy: Just pull out your salt container, measuring spoons and measuring cup from your kitchen cabinets; add 2 to 3 teaspoons of salt to a drinking glass; and then pour in one cup of warm water [source: Consumer Guide]. You can then mix the combination with a spoon and take a gulp of it. Don't swallow the salt water; you should swish it around your mouth like mouthwash. Once you spit it out into the sink, take another sip and swish some more.
Our last home remedy may not be quite as simple and inexpensive as a salt-water solution, but it is one of the most effective and recommended means of treating dental pain.
Some might not consider over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers as home remedies. After all, they're not organic or do-it-yourself. However, because they don't require a prescription from your doctor or dentist, and they're usually found in your home medicine cabinet, they more than qualify as a treatment you can try on your own.
When it comes to OTC treatments, you have a couple of choices. An antiseptic ointment with the ingredient benzocaine is an option many people find helpful (although it should never be used on a child under the age of 2). Perhaps the easiest thing for you to do is to take some ibuprofen or acetaminophen you already have in your house. A toothache causes inflammatory pain, so any anti-inflammatory medicine should be able to reduce your suffering. Just be sure to check the drug's label for the expiration date and dosage instructions. If the medicine you have at home has expired, you'll want to purchase more so that you can receive optimal pain-relief benefits.
If you'd like to learn more about dental care, keep reading for lots more information.
A new way to brush your teeth? HowStuffWorks looks at toothpaste tablets.
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