Toothaches, particularly those caused by infected tissue within a tooth’s root canal, can manifest as excruciating pain. Before you rush to the dentist for an emergency root canal procedure (or endodontic treatment as dentists call it), you will likely require serious pain relief in order to function with a modicum of normality. So, how to get rid of tooth pain before a root canal procedure?

Over the counter painkillers

Your options for over the counter painkillers will depend upon the jurisdiction in which you live. Generally, acetaminophen (also called Paracetamol) is best for children, while ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin is better for adults.

It is best to check with your doctor before taking ibuprofen, but if you get the green light, don’t stop taking it when the pain subsides, rather, follow the instructions on the package, taking it about three times a day. Remember, these are meant to be swallowed. Contrary to one urban myth, applying a tablet, particularly aspirin, to the painful area will do more harm than good.

Another option is topical dental anaesthetic. These come in a variety of flavors and contain benzocaine, which, unfortunately, is only for temporary use.

Home remedies

While modern medicine may provide the most effective relief, many home remedies and alternative treatments promise to provide relief. The first and most simple example is to keep your head elevated above your heart, possibly by using an extra pillow or two.

One of the most commonly suggested home remedies for root canal pain is a simple saline wash. Mix about half a teaspoon of ordinary salt into a cup (250ml) of warm water. Swish the solution around the affected area and spit out, don’t swallow it. If this works for you, repeat as many times as necessary.

Another option is to swish a solution of equal parts three percent hydrogen peroxide and water before carefully spitting it all out and rinsing out your mouth with water.

Hard alcohol such as vodka is not strong enough to disinfect the area and may rather inflame your tissue, giving the pain-causing infectious bacteria the opportunity to spread.

A cold compress such as a bag of frozen peas can offer great relief, particularly if you are suffering from swelling caused by serious tooth damage or by the infection having spread beyond the tooth root to form an abscess, which is like a cyst deep in your jaw.

Herbal remedies

The severity of root canal pain rarely leaves one pondering natural options for pain relief, but there are a few examples that may be effective for you. Cloves contain eugenol, a natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. If the pain allows, you can chew a whole clove and hold the chewed-up mass around the affected site for about five minutes. Alternatively, clove oil is available. This can be applied to a small piece of cotton ball and applied to the affected site.

In some parts of the world, guava leaves have traditionally been used to treat toothache, as they exhibit the same anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects as cloves. Available in Middle-Eastern specialty stores, guava leaves can be chewed and held in the mouth like whole cloves or brewed into a tea to swirl in the mouth like the saline solution mentioned above.

Other potential but unproven natural root canal pain relief before a procedure may come from garlic or peppermint, both of which can be chewed or swished as a brew, as with the natural remedies above.

What causes the pain?

One of the main signs that our bodily tissue is suffering from a bacterial infection is swelling, as can be seen with a pimple or cyst on the skin. Within the rock-hard shells of our teeth there is a soft tissue called pulp, which is responsible for forming the hard exterior dentin of the tooth and for sensing extremes in temperature and pressure.

This pulp can be exposed through cavities (which dentists call caries), trauma or wear. This allows bacteria to colonize the pulp, resulting in infection. Unlike a pimple on your face or even an infection in an internal organ, an infection within the hard shell of a tooth, especially within a tooth’s narrow root canal, has nowhere to expand to, usually causing extreme pressure and pain.

To prevent infection, follow our guide on how to get rid of the plaque that causes cavities through which bacteria can enter and infect the root canal.

The final piece of advice we have is not to fear the root canal procedure itself. With professional anesthetics, you will feel practically nothing while sitting in the dentist’s chair, and nothing but relief after it is over. Endodontic treatment has been developed specifically to relieve your pain and prevent any recurrence. Preventing root canal pain before the procedure can be difficult in some instances. No matter which method you try, do your best to get to your dentist for treatment as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.

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