Most of us have made some provision for first aid care in the event of a disaster or other emergency. But how many of us have prepared for a dental emergency? Having an unexpected toothache, abscess or gum problem is something that indeed happens from time to time.
The only time I have had a major toothache was when I was away from home and nowhere near a dentist. Luckily, I had some clove oil in my first aid kit and that got me through until I returned home and had a root canal. Still, it was hardly what I would call a fun experience and something I wish I could have avoided in the first place.
When a dental emergency occurs and it is in the middle of the night, you are away from home, or are in the middle of a SHTF situation, it is time to turn to some tried and and true home remedies to get you through. These are old fashioned remedies that, when coupled with a practical application of essential oils, will mean the difference between suffering in pain or simply dealing with a mild annoyance.
Today I share 21 home remedies for a toothache that have been compiled by my colleague Joe Marshall, as well as welcome back contributing author Joe Alton who shares his wisdom and medical expertise as he coaches us to become better prepared for a long-term dental emergency.
Toothache Pain: 21 Home Remedies
You can’t schedule a toothache and it never fails that a major toothache hits when it’s late at night when your dentist’s office is closed, or you’re somewhere remote and getting to a dentist any time soon is just not an option.
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of a toothache knows that it is not just your mouth that hurts. A toothache can be felt in just about every part of your body. I have had a few so bad that they made me sick to my stomach from the pain alone.
Although in most cases only a doctor can cure the source of the problem, this list of treatments & pain relief remedies should get you through until you can visit the dentist.
It is important to note: If you have a toothache, there is a reason for it and it’s best to have it taken care of by a professional as soon as possible, rather than having it treated at home in hopes that the underlying issue will go away on its own. If it’s infected (if your gum area is swollen), don’t delay in getting professional medical care.
(The following list of home remedies for toothache pain first appeared on Backdoor Survival in 2013. I have gone through the list and made some updates that incorporate the knowledge I have today. The best thing about this list is that most of these remedies can be made from items found in your pantry!)
Directions: Apply the below remedies directly to both the problem tooth and surrounding gums unless otherwise directed.
For items that direct you to chew, or for liquids that are to be swished around inside mouth, direct the liquid on and around the sore tooth as much as possible.
Do not swallow liquids. Rinse your mouth and spit them out when done.
1. Salt Water: Mix a heaping tablespoon full of salt in a small glass of warm water; swirl around inside your mouth for as long as you can, then spit out. Repeat as needed.
2. Hydrogen Peroxide: Swoosh a bit of hydrogen peroxide. If the taste is too horrid for you, try diluting it with a bit of water.
3. Alcohol: Swoosh a bit of whiskey, scotch, brandy or vodka. A strong mouthwash that contains alcohol will do the trick too. Another option is Elderberry tincture that you can make yourself.
4. Vanilla Extract: Saturate a cotton ball with vanilla and hold in place. Can also use a cotton swab dipped in extract. Other extracts that have the same effect are almond, peppermint, and lemon.
5. Melaleuca/Tea Tree Oil: Just a drop or two will do the trick. You can also add some to a cotton swab and hold in place or add a few drops of tea tree oil to a small glass of lukewarm to warm water and rinse your mouth with it.
Additional Reading: The Miracle of Tea Tree Oil: 80 Amazing Uses for Survival
6. Oregano Essential Oil: Mix a few drops with a bit of coconut oil or olive oil, then saturate a cotton ball with mixture. Can replace the carrier oil with lukewarm water if preferred but please do dilute the oregano oil!
7. Apple Cider Vinegar: Soak a cotton ball with apple cider vinegar (ACV) and hold it in place. Can also try regular household vinegar.
8. Ginger Root: Take a fresh piece of ginger and chew on it. The nice thing about Ginger Root is that it is easily grown. Here is an article with directions.
9. Garlic: Take a clove of garlic, smash it and apply (settle it inside cheek). You can also mash some garlic with salt.
10. Peppermint Leaves: Chew on fresh peppermint leaves. You can also use dried leaves, just hold them in place.
11. Potato: Cut a fresh piece of potato (raw, skin off) and hold in place. Can also pound a piece of raw potato, mix in a bit of salt and use the mash.
12. Lime: Cut a slice or wedge of lime and apply, bite into it if you can to release some of the juice.
13. Onion: Slice a piece of fresh onion and hold it inside your mouth. The onion needs to be freshly cut (so it provides a bit of onion juice).
14. Plantain: Chew up a fresh plantain leaf. If you’re too sore to chew, use the other side of your mouth. Once the leaf is macerated a bit apply it to the problem area and hold in place.
15. Cucumber: Slice a fresh piece of cucumber and hold it over the sore area. If refrigerated, you might want to bring the cucumber to room temperature before using (if sensitive to cold) otherwise a cool piece can be soothing.You can also mash a piece with a bit of salt and pack it around the sore tooth.
16. Cayenne Pepper: Make a paste with cayenne pepper and water.
17. Black Pepper: You can use this full strength or make a mix of pepper and salt.
18. Baking Soda: Take a cotton swab and moisten it with a bit of water, dip it in baking soda (coat the swab really well with baking soda) then apply. You can also make a mouth rinse by mixing a heaping spoonful of baking soda in a small glass of lukewarm to warm water, dissolve the soda then swish the mixture in your mouth.
19. Cloves / Clove Oil: This is an old time remedy. Rest a clove against the sore area until pain goes away. You can also use a drop or two of clove oil or make a thick paste of ground cloves and water or ground cloves and coconut or olive oil.
If you have an exposed tooth nerve because of a hole in the tooth itself, a temporary filling can be made out of clove oil and zinc oxide. Here’s a video of the procedure:
(If you are unable to view the video, here is a direct link: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3rTF4c26Po.)
20. Tea: Make a fresh cup of tea then take the used tea bag (still warm) and stick it in your mouth. Be careful not to tear the bag. The tannins that are naturally in tea leaves can help numb things.
21. Ice Pack: Cover an ice pack with a face cloth or towel then hold over your cheek where the problem is. This will help numb things. Make sure that you have some type of cloth between your skin and the ice, otherwise, you can severely damage your skin.If that doesn’t work, try the opposite, a hot compress (making sure that it is not so hot as to scald your skin).
If the pain is unbearable and there’s no dentist available, call your local hospital’s emergency room–chances are they have a dentist on call that can treat you (for a fee of course).
Try gently brushing your teeth and flossing–this might bring some relief.
One old time remedy that you should not follow is to place an aspirin against the sore tooth. You will have just as much if not more of an effect by swallowing the aspirin. Aspirin is actually an acid (acetylsalicylic acid to be exact) and placing it directly against your gums or teeth will cause corrosion of your teeth and acid burns on your gums.
If the side of your face is in severe pain and it feels like you’re going to lose your mind (I’ve been there, done that)–it could be a sinus infection or an allergy that affects your sinuses rather than a problem tooth (even though it definitely feels like it). Try taking a decongestant or if that is not available, a shower set on the hottest setting may help clear your sinus cavities. This might help relieve things until you get to a doctor. Chances are a prescription antibiotic is what you’ll need to clear up the sinus infection.
If it is a sinus infection please don’t wait to get it taken care of! I have permanent damage to my left eardrum from a sinus infection that became so congested it literally burst my eardrum as a pressure relief valve.
Please be aware: These are notes I have collected in my personal life over the years, in my own research as well as tips gathered from my grandparents and great grandparents.
They are not by any means professional medical advice and a trained dentist should always be contacted as soon as possible.
My Tooth Just Broke – Now What?
Stuff happens. Sometimes a tooth will actually shatter or chip. Sometimes a major piece of it will actually break off. What then?
If you are not experiencing any pain, you can take an emery board (nail file) and gently smooth away the rough edges of the tooth. On the other hand, if you are experiencing pain or hot and cold sensitivity, try applying some of the home remedies above plus an application of Sensodyne toothpaste to the affected area. That plus some Tylenol of Ibuprofen will get you by until you have an opportunity to see a dental professional.
A General Note on Oral Health and Overall Health
Good oral hygiene is important. We learned that when we were kids. But as you prepare for a stressful situation, taking care of your teeth and gums becomes even more important, since a mouth in distress can lead to a myriad of health woes. And if you are in an emergency or crisis situation, you need to be in tip-top form health wise.
So what can happen to your overall health if you have dental problems? Studies show that poor oral hygiene can cause heart problems, diabetes, and respiratory infection. Need convincing?
Not brushing teeth at least twice a day leads to gums inflammation which can be spread throughout the body. Inflammation in the body narrows blood vessels, resulting in the decrease of blood flow to the heart, eventually leading to heart attack. Yuk.
Another effect of poor oral hygiene on overall health is diabetes. Gum disease, which is a result of poor oral hygiene, leads to diabetes. This happens when bacteria enters the bloodstream and triggers a reaction from the immune system that ultimately damages the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, resulting in diabetes.
Poor oral hygiene also increases the risk of getting a respiratory infection. This happens when bacteria in the mouth that is generated from dental plaque is carried down to the lungs. The resulting infection can cause pneumonia.
Oh yeah, one more thing. There is also the social aspect of poor dental care: bad breath. For sure that is something we wish to avoid.
So, the moral of the story is to brush, floss and see a dentist once or twice a year for a good cleaning. Enough said.
Being Dentally Prepared
Being prepared for a dental emergency, whether in normal times or in a survival situation is something that ranks right up there with being medically prepared and pandemic prepared. Why is that most of us don’t think about dental emergencies until it happens to us?
In addition to these suggestions, I encourage you to pick a copy of “Where There Is No Dentist”. This highly regarded book will teach you how to be your own dentist. An electronic copy is available at the Hesperian website or you can pick up a print or Kindle copy on Amazon.
It also would not hurt to have a week’s supply of antibiotics on hand. Check with your doctor or dentist about an emergency prescription or pick up some fish antibiotics which are the same thing and can be used for extreme emergency purposes. For more information on the use of antibiotics, read How to Stockpile Antibiotics for Long Term Survival.
Finally, remember that if you are in extreme pain and there is a doctor available, do not be shy. Every doctor I know is willing to treat the pain and if applicable, an infection, until a dental professional is available.
A Note on Where There Is No Dentist
There is a very useful book titled Where There Is No Dentist that is published by the Hesperian Foundation. It includes lots of drawings and is useful in teaching laymen like us how to recognize, treat, and prevent common dental and oral hygiene problems.
Here’s a sample of some of the information that is included:
- How to properly examine and diagnose dental issues
- How to treat cavities, abscesses, infected sinuses, and more
- How to prepare and insert homemade fillings
- How to inject inside the mouth
- How to safely and correctly remove a tooth
- How to make useable dental instruments from common items
- and more, lots more
Now of course you can go out and buy a printed version of this book or you can download it directly from the Hesperian Foundation. It’s a little bit cheaper, plus if you download you will be assured of getting the latest version. (I actually bought the book because I like a physical book, plus I can thumb through it for reference!) Here are the links for both:
While you are there, you might want to check out some of their other free, downloadable books such as Where There Is No Doctor. And of course, after downloading be sure to store a copy on the flash drive you keep in your bug out bag. (You do have a flash drive there with all of your other important documents, don’t you?)
An interesting thought is that in the event of a major disaster or disruptive event, finding dental care from a trained professional may be impossible. First responders are going to be saving lives and not tending to a nagging toothache or even to a broken tooth. For that reason, we need to think about being dentally prepared with the tools and knowledge to get us by during a dental emergency!
What About Dental Preparedness In Long Term Survival Situations?
Excerpt from Joe Alton, MD’s article ‘The Survival Dental Kit’:
Over the years, we have written hundreds of articles on medical preparedness for short or long-term disasters. Many now include medical kits and supplies to add to survival food storage and items for personal protection. Yet, few who are otherwise medically prepared seem to devote much time to dental health. Poor dental health can cause issues that affect the work efficiency of members of your group in survival settings. When your people are not at 100% effectiveness, your chances for survival decrease.
Anyone who has had to perform a task while simultaneously dealing with a bad toothache can attest to the effect on the amount and quality of work done. If your teeth hurt badly, it’s unlikely that your mind can concentrate on anything other than the pain. Therefore, it only makes sense that you must learn basic dental hygiene, care, and procedures to keep your people at full work efficiency. It could easily be the difference between success and failure in a collapse.
In normal times, however, you should understand that the practice of dentistry without a license is illegal and punishable by law. Seek modern and standard dental care wherever and whenever it is available.
The Full Survival Dental Kit
The prepared medic will have included dental supplies in their storage, but what exactly would make sense in austere settings? You would want the kit to be portable, so dentist chairs and other heavy equipment wouldn’t be practical. You would want it to be easily distinguished from the medical kit.
We’ve mentioned that gloves for medical and dental purposes are one item that you should have in quantity. Don’t ever stick your bare hands in someone’s mouth. Buy hypoallergenic nitrile gloves instead of latex. For additional protection, masks should also be stored and worn by the medic.
After consulting with a number of preparedness-minded dentists, we have put together what we believe will be a reasonable kit that can handle a number of dental issues:
• Dental floss, dental picks, toothbrushes, toothpaste or baking soda.
• Dental or orthodontic wax as used for braces. Wax can be used to splint a loose tooth to its neighbors.
• A Rubber bite block to keep the mouth open. This provides good visualization and protection from getting bitten. A large eraser would serve the purpose.
• Cotton pellets, Cotton rolls, Q tips, gauze sponges (cut into small squares).
• Compressed air cans or a bulb syringe for drying up saliva on teeth.
• Commercial temporary filling material, such as Tempanol, Cavit, or Den-temp.
• Oil of cloves (eugenol), a natural anesthetic. Often found in commercial preparations such as:
Red Cross Toothache Medicine (85% eugenol)
Dent’s Toothache Drops (benzocaine in combo with eugenol)
It’s important to know that eugenol might burn the tongue, so be careful when touching anything but teeth with it.
• other oral analgesics like Hurricaine or Orajel (Benzocaine)
Gaye’s note: I prefer using Clove Essential Oil to OTC remedies but ultimately, the choice is yours.
• Zinc oxide powder; when mixed with 2 drops of clove oil, it will harden into temporary filling cement.
• Spatula for mixing (a tongue depressor will do)
• Oil of oregano, a natural antibacterial.
• A bulb syringe to blow air and dry teeth for better visualization, and as a diagnostic tool to elicit discomfort in damaged teeth. A can of compressed air may be an alternative.
• An irrigation syringe to flush areas upon which work is being done
• Scalpel #15 or #10 to incise and drain abscesses
• Dental probes, also called “explorers”.
• Dental tweezers
• Dental mirrors
• Dental scrapers/scalers to remove plaque and probe questionable areas.
• Spoon excavators. These instruments have a flat circular tip that is used to “excavate” decayed material from demineralized areas of a tooth. A powered dental drill would be a much better choice, but not likely to be an option off the grid.
• Elevators. These are thin but solid chisel-like instruments that help with extractions by separating ligaments that hold teeth in their sockets. #301 or #12B are good choices. In a pinch, some parts of a Swiss army knife might work.
• Extraction forceps. These are like pliers with curved ends. They come in versions specific to upper and lower teeth and, sometimes, left and right.
Although there are more types of dental extractors than there are teeth, you should at least have several. Although every dentist has their preferences, you should consider including the following in your dental kit:
-#151 or #79N for lower front teeth
-#150A or #150 for upper front teeth.
-#23, best for lower molars
-#53R, best for upper right molars
-#53L, best for upper left molars
• Blood-clotting Agents: There are a number of products, such as Act-Cel, that help control bleeding in the mouth after extractions or other procedures. It comes a fabric square that can be cut to size and placed directly on the bleeding socket or gum.
• Sutures: A kit consisting of a needle holder, forceps, scissors, and suture material is helpful for the control of bleeding or to preserve the normal contour of gum tissue. We recommend 4/0 Chromic catgut as it is absorbable. It’s small enough for the oral cavity but large enough for the non-surgeon to handle. Don’t forget a small scissors to cut the string.
• Pain medication and antibiotics. Medications in the Penicillin family are preferred if not allergic. For those allergic to Penicillin, Erythromycin can be used. For tooth abscesses, Clindamycin is a good choice.
Just as obtaining knowledge and training on medical issues likely in a disaster is important, the study of dental procedures and practices is essential for the aspiring survival medic.
Interesting Fact: More people are taking care of their teeth now than ever
When I had my last dental checkup in May, I was told that whereas pre-2010 regular dental good habits had been declining in the US, since then good dental habits have seen an increase – a double-fold increase – in the number of preventative services such as routine cleaning. In addition, patients are coming in asking a lot of questions, wanting instructions on flossing, and other matters relating to maintaining a healthy mouth.
I was also told that fewer people had dental insurance (for example, I don’t) but they were seeking dental care anyway.
Could it be that folks are preparing for the worst by taking care of themselves now? If so, that would be a wonderful thing!
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Spotlight: The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way: This book teaches how to deal with all the likely medical issues you will face in a disaster situation, including strategies to keep your family healthy even in the worse scenarios. It covers skills such as performing a physical exam, transporting the injured patient, and even how to suture a wound. This medical reference belongs in every survival library.
Bargain Bin: Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article, including a link to sources for clove oil, the one essential oil that I find most beneficial for toothaches.
Where There Is No Dentist: Community health workers, educators, and individuals from around the world use this book to help people care for their teeth and gums. The author uses straightforward language and careful instructions to explain how to: examine patients; diagnose common dental problems; make and use dental equipment; use local anesthetics; place fillings, and remove teeth.
Survival Deluxe Dental Kit: Amy Alton (aka Nurse Amy) has a survival store on the Doom and Bloom website. There you will find a dentist approved, Deluxe Dental Emergency Kit. I have no financial relationship with the store but know that when it comes to healthcare under survival conditions, Joe and Amy are folks you can trust for medically appropriate information as well as equipment.
Dentek Temparin Max Lost Filling & Loose Cap Repair: Who would have guessed that this type of product would be available so cheaply! After writing this article I ordered some because, like many in my age group, I have a number of fillings and crowns.
Clove Essential Oil: I use essential oils from Spark Naturals. They are high quality yet reasonably priced. In addition, there are no membership fees and a distributor relationship is not necessary to get the best pricing. Interested in checking them out? Backdoor Survival readers get a 10% discount by using coupon code BACKDOORSURVIVAL at checkout!
Additional Reading: 20 Ways To Benefit from Clove Essential Oil
NOW Foods Essential Oils: I use essential oils from Spark Naturals. For healing purposes, I feel they are superior. On the other hand, NOW Foods has decent essential oils at a budget price plus they can be purchased at Amazon.com. Here are a few to get you started: NOW Foods Rosemary Oil, NOW Foods Peppermint Oil, and Now Foods Lavender Oil, plus, of course, Clove Oil.
Dynarex Black Nitrile Exam Gloves, Heavy-Duty, Box/100: This brand is the #1 seller on Amazon. Pick your size; both Shelly and I wear a medium.
Zinc oxide powder: Zinc Oxide powder has been on my wish list for a long time because I wanted to take a shot at making my own sunscreen for SHTF purposes. This article gave me an excuse to investigate other uses. This is another one of those multi-purpose items that are so good to have on hand.
3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduce your exposure to airborne particles.
3M TEKK Protection Chemical Splash/Impact Goggle: I am pleased with these eye protection goggles and the price is reasonable.
Where There Is No Dentist: Community health workers, educators and individuals from around the world use this book to help people care for their teeth and gums. The author uses straightforward language and careful instructions to explain how to: examine patients; diagnose common dental problems; make and use dental equipment; use local anesthetics; place fillings; and remove teeth.
Dent’s Toothache Gum: This is not a chewing gum but more of a filler for a cracked tooth or missing filling. Cheap, too.
Sensodyne: This stuff really works to relieve tooth sensitivity.
Bargain Bin (Cont): An assortment of essential oils that are reasonably priced and available online with free shipping at Amazon. I also have links to other items related to this article.
NOW Foods Tea Tree Oil: With strong antiseptic and germicidal properties, the leaf of the tea tree had a long history of use by the indigenous peoples of Australia before tea tree was “discovered” by the crew of the famous English explorer James Cook. The aroma of the oil is warm, spicy, medicinal and volatile
NOW Foods Oregano Oil: Oregano has a strong, herbaceous, green-camphoraceous, medicinal top note. The middle note is spicy, medicinal. The dry out is sweet-phenolic woody, bitter-sweet. Oregano essential oil is invigorating, purifying and uplifting.
NOW Foods Clove Oil: Clove oil has a powerful, spicy-fruity, warm, sweet aroma. It is extremely effective for mitigating tooth and gum pain.
NOW Foods Orange Oil: More sweet orange oil is produced than any other citrus oil. It has a lively, fruity, sweet aroma and is refreshing and uplifting.
NOW Foods Lavender Oil: Lavender oil is my personal favorite. It can be used in salves and skin lotions or directly on the skin, right out of the bottle. It has a sweet, balsamic, floral aroma which combines well with many oils including citrus, clove, patchouli, rosemary, clary sage and pine. Its benefits include balancing, soothing, normalizing, calming, relaxing, and healing.
NOW Foods Peppermint Oil: Peppermint has a powerful, sweet, menthol aroma that works beautifully in DIY cleaners.
Bargain Bin (Cont):
Amazon currently has my favorite little flash drive, the Kingston 4GB DataTraveler . I love this little guy – its perfect for storing copies all of my important documents (passport, drivers license, medical prescriptions, and yes, even my marriage license) as well as my preparedness lifestyle reference manuals.
Emergency Essentials is a great source of food for long term storage as well as supplies. This is you last chance to get in on the June specials.
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What are the best oils for your survival kit? Here are my top picks.