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Can Rinsing With Salt Water Make A Toothache Worse?

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

You're having some throbbing tooth pain and you're wondering if there is a mouth rinse that you can use to calm down the toothache. Does salt water work?

Girl with toothache
Girl with toothache

Table of Contents

How to rinse with salt water for a toothache

Putting together a salt water mouth rinse is a very simple process because all you need is just a cup, some salt, and water.

  1. Fill up an 8 oz glass with room temperature water.

  2. Dissolve a teaspoon of table salt into the water by stirring.

  3. Rinse for at least 30 seconds but you may rinse for up to 2 minutes.

  4. Spit out the mixture.

  5. You may repeat these steps several times a day as needed.

Will rinsing with salt water make a toothache worse?

Rinsing with salt water could potentially make your toothache worse but only in certain scenarios and we will explain why.

Using very cold water for the salt water rinse

If you make the rinse with ice cold water, it could make the tooth pain worse, especially if the tooth was already sensitive to temperature before the rinse. For example, if the tooth was sensitive to cold and anything cold that touches it will cause pain, you will definitely have an even worse toothache if you try rinsing with a cold water salt rinse! To rectify this situation, use room temperature water.

Using the rinse on an open cavity

If the tooth has a very big cavity that is wide open to the oral environment, it will cause some pain. This is because the inside of the tooth, the dentin is exposed. Any sort of external stimuli will aggravate the nerve pain resulting in a toothache.

If your crown falls off or your temporary crown falls off

This scenario is when your crown falls off and the tooth never had a root canal, which means that it is very much alive. When a live tooth is not covered, anything that touches it will be sensitive and that includes the salt water. Even if it was just plain water, it will aggravate it as well.

Using the rinse on an exposed tooth nerve

If you are rinsing with salt water directly on exposed nerves in a tooth, you may experience excruciating pain. The reason is because the nerve is normally covered by dentin and enamel so it never receives direct stimulation. If the salt water touches the tooth nerve directly, you will experience a lot of pain.

Salt water may seem pretty harmless since they are literally two very common ingredients, but it may worsen your tooth pain when used in certain situations, especially with the ones above. These situations also share a lot of similarities with hydrogen peroxide rinsing.

When rinsing with salt water will help a toothache

Despite the scenarios above, the salt water rinsing can in fact help relieve toothaches in other situations. We will explain when rinsing with salt water can be beneficial.

After a tooth extraction

If you just had a tooth extracted, a salt water rinse is the perfect mouth rinse to use on an open extraction socket. This is because anything that is alcoholic or acidic will burn the open wound.

extraction socket that is healing
extraction socket that is healing

Think of when you get a cut and you apply alcohol on it to clean. You're only suppose to do it one time and then after that you're suppose to just use clean water. The same applies to after a tooth removal procedure. You don't want to aggravate it so use salt water only please. It will help reduce inflammation and also prevent food from getting stuck in the hole.

After gum treatment

If you just finished periodontal treatment such as a deep cleaning where you had scaling and root planing for your teeth, your gums were bleeding a lot during the procedure. In order to get the gum swelling and gum bleeding down, you should rinse with salt water. Salt water rinses help with inflammation.

bleeding gums after gum treatment
bleeding gums after gum treatment

Normal everyday bleeding gums

It doesn't have to be after visiting the dentist, if your gums are bleeding on an every day basis, you can use the salt rinse to help control the bleeding. In fact, it means you should be brushing, flossing, and rinsing even more than what you are doing right now. If it doesn't resolve, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist.

Canker sores around teeth

If you get canker sores frequently in your mouth, using a salt water rinse can help speed up the healing process by drying out the sore. It will also help reduce inflammation in the sore and consequently reduce pain.

canker sore on upper lip
canker sore on upper lip

Final thoughts

Salt water rinsing is a very simple home remedy to fight toothaches. It will work for some situations and it also won't work for other scenarios. It all depends on the cause of the toothache. If you are unsure, it is best to just schedule a dental check with with your dentist. Our long island city dentists are always available to take your call.


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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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