Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Temporary Toothache Relief

I have dentures because I inherited rotting teeth from my Mom’s side of the family. Yes, I’m only twenty-seven, but I’m actually happy to have a full set of false teeth. They don’t rot out in my mouth, abscess, or cause me any other excruciating pain, unlike the real teeth they replaced.

However, my family and I had to wait a long time to get my bad teeth out of my mouth. We don’t have much money, and don’t qualify for Medicaid, so we had to scrape together cash and pay the dentist a little at a time. He wouldn’t do the work until the bill was paid, because he couldn’t exactly chase me down and put my bad teeth back in my mouth if I skipped out on him. Fair is fair, if you ask me – but while we were working and paying him off, I was miserable.

Toothaches, particularly abscesses, are not fun. If you have the ability to see a dentist, do so. I’m terrified of these professionals, having had more than my fair share of nasty experiences with them over the years, but good ones will fix problems. You can’t eat properly with broken teeth, and suffering through an excruciatingly-painful abscess pretty much shuts down anything that you would be doing with your life if you weren’t in agony. I spent plenty of time flat on my back, with an ice pack or heating pad covering my face, instead of going to classes or doing some other, productive thing with my time.

However, I know good and well that not all of us have money lying around for dental appointments. Dentists are expensive, especially if you don’t have insurance. Even if you do have coverage, major dental work – like dentures – is often a 50/50 deal (you pay half and the insurance company pays the other). I understand not being able to afford dental work, and I understand the misery that you might suffer while you’re trying to reach that goal.

If you have a toothache or an abscess – you just might have to deal with it at home as best you can because of that whole lack of money thing. This sucks, but you can do a few things to try and alleviate some of the misery. This is not a substitute for a dentist: rather, this will make you somewhat more comfortable until you can scrape together the money to get into the office.

Clove oil is a fantastic thing. If you dribble a little bit of this over and around the affected tooth, it will draw out the infection. This is one of my favorite alternative remedies, because clove oil is inexpensive, easy to find, and extremely helpful.

I also got good results from tea-tree mouthwash. This stuff has natural, antiseptic properties. And unlike the chemical-laden, prescription mouthwash that my dentist prescribed when I saw him about an abscess, the tea-tree version did not make me hurt even worse. Seriously: the large bottle of Colgate prescription stuff was horrible. I hurt so badly after I swished the first time that I started throwing up. The tea-tree oil didn’t do that to me – and that stuff’s only about ten bucks a bottle where I shop.

Swelling and Puffiness
Moist heat can be your friend when your tooth’s trying to murder you. I have a moist heating pad, which is a fantastic investment if you ask me. I found mine in Walmart’s pharmacy section for about ten, twelve bucks. When I curled up with this sucker pressed to the affected area, I usually felt better. This takes some time, and it doesn’t completely eliminate the pain, but it helps. (This pad was also, incidentally, the only thing that enabled me to doze off the day that I had all of my teeth pulled in one sitting. Not even the Vicodin was as helpful as this.)

Side note: if you don’t have a moist heating pad, get hand towels from your kitchen or bathroom. Dunk them in the hottest water you can stand, wring them out, and press them to your face. You will have to change out these compresses fairly regularly, but they do work when they’re what you have on hand.

You can also try alternating between heat and cold. I sometimes did this, with good results. Just be sure that you don’t leave either one on your face for more than five to ten minutes, as that can be painful.

Sometimes, getting into a hot shower and letting the water hit the affected side of your face helps. This wasn’t helpful every time I had a toothache, but there were times when curling up in the bottom of the bathtub, with the shower head doing its thing, did help.

Nausea and Vomiting
When the tooth’s abscessed, and you’re busily throwing up everywhere, get some Emetrol. You know: the nasty-flavored anti-nausea medicine that’s loaded down with sugary syrup? That stuff. Walmart’s store brand is pretty good, and a lot cheaper than actual Emetrol. Take as recommended to keep the puking at bay. Throwing up makes things worse: the force of your vomit washing over your bad tooth is…just…miserable.

If the Emetrol doesn’t work by itself, take a dose of it and chase it with the appropriate amount of Pepto-Bismol. During one miserable abscess, I did this three times within forty-five minutes. After the third dose, the vomiting finally stopped long enough for me to start taking the antibiotics and Vicodin.

Orajel works really well on tooth pain. This is another case where Walmart’s store brand does a good job for less than the name-brand version. I used to stick the tube into my mouth, near the bad tooth, and just squeeze. There were times when I’d squeeze out a good one-eighth of a tube all around the tooth. This isn’t recommended as a long-term solution, but it does help relieve some of the pain for a while.

If you happen to have some Vicodin in the medicine cabinet, left over from that sprung shoulder last year, take it. I’m a big fan of stashing my leftover pain pills. I very rarely need them all for the actual problem, so I rathole the leftovers. More than once, they’ve been handy for other problems.

Ideally, you'll be able to find, and pay for, a dentist in the near future. However, things go wrong. Maybe you can afford the bill, but live in the middle of nowhere (like I do) and all three dentists in the area are off for the weekend. Maybe society's gone right down the toilet and dentists aren't affordable, if they're still in business where you live. Maybe something else has gone wrong. Being able to relieve at least some of your misery is a vital skill, because a toothache will flatten you.


  1. I too have had teeth problems due to a car accident and sympathize greatly with your situation.


  2. Sorry to hear about your dental problems, Riverwalker. What really sucks about our teeth is that they can't regenerate or heal even slight damage. Every other body part - skin, heart, lungs, et cetera - can regenerate/repair to a certain extent, but tooth enamel? Not even a little bit. Sigh.


“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm