Updated: May 15
Using clove oil as a natural toothache remedy has been around for centuries but does it work and what does the FDA say about it?
Table of Contents:
Background history of clove oil
Clove oil is an essential oil that is extracted from the clove plant Syzygium aromaticum and is commonly used in aromatherapy and food flavoring as a spice. Another particular use of interest has been its ability to relieve tooth pain.
Historically, clove oil (eugenol) has been an ingredient in professional dental products for nearly a century now. Dentists across the globe have been using it in dental cements to temporarily relieve toothaches.
According to WebMD, the first documented use of clove oil for a toothache was in 1649 by France. Unfortunately, we are unable to find this documentation on the internet but we will take their word for it.
How to use clove oil for a toothache
The ingredients you will need for this home remedy to relieve a tooth pain are a bottle of clove oil, a cotton swab, and a cup of water.
Apply 1-2 drops of clove oil onto a cotton swab.
Rub the swab around the tooth that is in pain.
Allow the oil to penetrate the tooth for 5-10 minutes.
Rinse your mouth out with water afterwards to remove any residual oil.
Repeat every couple of hours as needed.
It is important to rinse your mouth with water afterwards because residual clove oil may cause gum irritation and gum damage according to MedlinePlus.
Alternatively, you can also use the clove oil as a mouth rinse in oil pulling.
Fill a cup with 4 oz of warm water.
Apply a couple of drops of clove oil into the water.
Lightly stir the solution.
Swish solution in your mouth for 15-20 minutes.
Spit out and rinse with water to remove residual oil.
If you can't find clove oil but have cloves on hand, you can also chew it to achieve the same pain relieving effect. According to this study, you can take a few pieces of cloves and chew it with the offending tooth that is causing you pain. The cloves will release the oil on top of the tooth.
Our LIC dentists would like to make a comment about chewing cloves with the tooth that is experiencing a toothache. It is quite common for an inflamed tooth to feel worse when you chew on it so using that same tooth to chew on cloves may cause you more pain. We would recommend the clove oil over the actual cloves.
How to make your own clove oil paste
The last method to use clove oil for tooth pain is by turning it into a paste. You can use this method if you don't have access to the oil but have the cloves on hand.
Mash and grind up the cloves into a paste.
Add a few drops of olive oil or vegetable oil into the paste
Mix the paste and apply it to the offending tooth.
Let the paste penetrate the tooth for 5-10 minutes.
Rinse your mouth with water to remove residue.
The clove paste is not as effective as using the oil directly because the viscosity of the oil allows it to penetrate the tooth more effectively.
Where to buy clove oil for a toothache
You can purchase clove oil at your local supermarket or pharmacy. They are often found in the herbal remedies, supplements, or medicinal sections of the store. Alternatively, you can always order it online through ecommerce websites and online retailers.
How to dilute clove oil
If the product you are buying is too concentrated, you can always dilute the clove oil with a different type of oil such as olive oil but any vegetable oil will work as well.
Add clove oil into a teaspoon measure
Add a few drops of olive oil
FDA approval status
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have differing approval statuses depending on what the clove oil is USED for.
Clove oil for human consumption
It has received FDA approval as food for human consumption with an affirmed GRAS status (Generally Recognized As Safe). This makes it a very popular choice as a food flavoring additive in jellies, baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages, chewing gum, candy, puddings, relishes and ice cream. It is a very popular and widely used spice.
Clove oil as an anesthetic for fish
It is currently NOT approved by the FDA as an anesthetic for fish due to safety concerns. The oil does not have GRAS status so it is not generally recognized as safe when used as a fish anesthetic.
The reason is due to the potential of clove oil to cause cancer in fish, which makes the fish unfit for human consumption. Studies are currently being conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) to test the carcinogenicity of the eugenol on rats and mice. The results for carcinogenicity are currently negative for rats but equivocal for mice. This means that there was a marginal increase in cancer for the mice. The tests are still ongoing and have no been concluded yet.
Eugenol (clove oil) in dental products
Eugenol is approved by the FDA for use as a dental cement and also as a temporary tooth filling material.
Some dental cements contain eugenol and they're used to glue in dental crowns and bridges. The eugenol in the cement has the ability to alleviate tooth pain and also contain bacteriostatic and antiseptic properties as well.
Temporary tooth filling material. A popular dental product called IRM, is often used as a sedative temporary tooth filling material. Dentists will place this directly on top of an exposed tooth nerve after performing a pulpotomy, which is removal of the top portion of the nerve. The material will often calm down the inflamed nerve after the procedure is completed. This filling material is used as an interim until the patient finishes the root canal and gets a permanent dental crown.
Is clove oil effective for relieving tooth pain?
According to the US govt, there isn't sufficient data to support claims that clove oil can be used for toothaches and pain during dental work. It turns out that there really aren't any direct studies, which test the oil directly for a toothache. There are only studies, which indirectly test its efficacy on pain.
After wisdom tooth removal. A British study found that the eugenol did perform better at reducing pain and inflammation in tooth sockets after the wisdom teeth were removed. This does not give us information about its effectiveness on the tooth nerve since there is no nerve once the tooth has been removed.
After periodontal surgery. One study compared the effectiveness of a periodontal dressing used to cover up the gums after gum surgery. The study found that there was no statistical difference in pain when comparing a dressing with clove oil and one without.
Numbing the gums before an injection. This study compared the efficacy of clove gel vs benzocaine as a gum numbing agent prior to giving an injection with a dental needle. The results were that the clove gel was comparable in numbing the gums and it could potentially replace the benzocaine as a numbing agent. Of course, this tested numbing the gums and not the tooth itself.
Anesthetic effects on fish
The clove oil does appear to be an very effective anesthetic when used on fish. A Korean study found that the oil was equivalent in efficacy to lidocaine in anesthetizing fish. Lidocaine is the main local anesthetic dentists used to numb your teeth. This implies that clove oil is effective for relieving tooth pain in fish but humans are still untested.
Controversial study on human teeth
There is one study that tests the efficacy of the clove oil on tooth pain but the product used is not pure clove oil since it is mixed with zinc oxide. The temporary tooth filling material that dentist use is IRM, which is composed of zinc oxide eugenol.
The study found that when eugenol (clove oil) is used in low concentrations and small quantities it does have anti-inflammatory and local anesthetic effects on the pulp. It may facilitate pulp healing. However high concentrations of it are cytotoxic and when applied directly to the tooth nerve it can cause extensive tissue damage.
This means that if you are applying clove oil directly onto the tooth nerve, you may be causing more harm than good. After all, the dental products that use it, typically mix it with other ingredients to dilute the toxicity.
Use in the United Kingdom
Even though clove oil isn't recognized and approved for use as a tooth pain reliever in the United States, it is approved for toothache use in the United Kingdom. For the UK, the therapeutic indication is as such, "for the temporary relief of toothache". They even have a patient leaflet dictating all of the uses, side effects, and warnings.
However, they did advise to avoid direct contact with the gums because it may cause gum damage. This statement is the same as what the US govt came to in conclusion. They also mentioned that swallowing a few drops is not an issue but in large quantities it may be dangerous. If you do swallow a lot, you should seek medical help. This is also in line with the US study about how high concentrations can be toxic.
Clove oil may have therapeutic effects at low concentrations but when consumed in high concentrations or large quantities, there will be adverse effects.
Skin and oral mucosa irritant
Slow blood clotting. It may slow blood clotting and increase the chances for bruising and bleeding.
Overdose on clove oil
There has been no reported overdose in oral uses for adults. However for children under the age of 2, oral administration of 5-10 ml can cause life threatening conditions.
Blood clotting problems
Acute liver damage
Low blood glucose
Alternative remedies for a toothache
Due to the potential toxicity of clove oil, you may want to explore alternative safer home remedies for relieving a toothache.
Orajel or anbesol. These are topical numbing agents similar to the pre-numbing gel that your dentist uses.
Salt water rinse. Salt has a natural antiseptic effect and is very gentle on the mouth plus it is safe.
Hydrogen peroxide rinse. A 6% solution has been shown to kill half of the bacteria within 15 seconds.
Pain medication. Over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen have shown to be effective in reducing toothaches when taken every 8 hours.
The conclusion is that clove oil may help with a toothache but at the same time it could be potentially hazardous as well. It is approved for tooth pain relief in the UK but not the US.
Although dental products in the US do contain it but studies have shown that in high concentrations, it is toxic and can cause tissue damage. Therefore it can kill a tooth nerve when it comes into direct contact with it but that isn't what you want. It is also lethal when given to children under the age of 2 in large quantities.
Therefore, if you are an adult you may give the oil a try in relieving a toothache but if all else fails, the recommendation is to seek professional medical help. Scheduling a visit with your dentist is the safest thing to do and they can permanently fix your tooth pain. Our emergency dentists in long island city will be more than happy to kill your toothache.