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Can Salt Water Kill a Tooth Nerve?

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

A salt water rinse is an inexpensive but effective antiseptic mouth rinse but it can't kill your tooth nerve because it's not an analgesic. It is also non-toxic which makes it one of the most gentle mouth rinses that you can possibly use, meaning it won't harm the pulp.


Salt with glass

Table of contents:


Will salt kill the tooth nerve?

The use of salt has been clinically proven to expedite wound healing since it possess antibacterial properties. The combination of these two traits make it the ideal post-surgical rinse to use after wisdom teeth extractions.


However, despite its wondrous wound healing properties, it does not possess the ability to get rid of your tooth nerve pain.


There are two barriers which prevents it providing tooth pain relief:

  • Salt water is unable to reach the pulp which contains the nerve.

  • Salt is non-toxic so it can't kill the nerves of your teeth.


Unable to reach the pulp

Salt is unable to penetrate through the enamel which means there is no chance it can reach the pulp. Basically all of the nerves are located within the middle of the tooth and is protected by the layers of enamel and dentin. In other words, this antiseptic mouthwash will have a difficult time reaching the center of the tooth.


Tooth Anatomy - Mouthhealthy
Credit: Mouthhealthy - ADA

If the saline can't even get to the nerve, it will have no way of affecting it. That means killing it is physically impossible even if it was toxic enough to do so.


Non-toxic to pulp tissue

Salt can kill bacteria since its antibacterial but that doesn't mean it can kill your tooth nerve. It's good for disinfecting wounds and keeping it clean but it won't cause any of your bodily tissues to die.


If it was toxic enough to result in the death of your pulp, you'd be in big trouble if you had a salty meal. Imagine eating a large order of salty french fries and end up with an entire mouth full of dead teeth.


Does that even happen? No it doesn't because saline is very safe to use as long as you're not swallowing it.


Is it safe to use?

Excessive salt intake can be detrimental to your health, namely in the form of hypertension (high blood pressure). Ingesting too much of it can cause that. However if you're merely rinsing with it and spitting it back out, it is unlikely to result in high blood pressure.


As long as you use it judiciously it shouldn't cause you any bodily harm. Therefore we would say it is safe to use. If it wasn't, oral surgeons and dentists wouldn't be recommending it after extractions if that was the case.


 

Alternatives to kill the nerve

If you wanted to know how to kill the nerve of your tooth permanently, you should take a cue from what your dentist does. There are three methods which they routinely use that can deaden the aching nerve.

  • Root canal treatment by physically removing it from the tooth.

  • Tooth extraction which removes the entire tooth with the nerve from the mouth.

  • Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in the pulp chamber during a root canal.


A common theme among all three of these techniques is that they are very physical. They mechanically treat the pulp by either removing it physically or chemically dissolving it.


Home remedies aren't effective on the nerve simply due to the fact that it can't reach it. In order to effectively affect the pulp, you need direct access to it. Your dentist does this by drilling a hole through the the enamel and dentin to reach it.


Root canal

A root canal procedure will mechanically remove the nerve and separate it from the tooth. That means your tooth stays in the jaw but the pulp will be gone forever. This is one of the most common ways that your dentist uses to "kill" the nerve.


After the procedure is completed, the tooth is considered dead because it can no longer feel temperature sensitivity nor pain. It will be considered dead and will have zero sensations.


Extraction

A tooth extraction will remove the entire tooth with its nerve from the mouth. This is a more drastic treatment option for eliminating a toothache.


Extraction socket after tooth removal
Extraction socket after tooth removal

Afterwards you may want to consider replacing the missing tooth with either an implant or a dental bridge. Having one less tooth will affect your ability to chew, speak and eat. Replacing it can improve your quality of life and restore your smile.


Bleach

For those who've had root canals, you may have remembered the smell of bleach during the middle of the procedure. That is because your dentist was irrigating and disinfecting the canals by using sodium hypochlorite (bleach) inside of the tooth.


We all know how potent it can be and how it can literally kill almost every bacteria and virus, including the coronavirus.


When used inside of the tooth, it will dissolve the nerve and other infected tissues along with it. However what it doesn't do is dissolve the enamel, dentin, or cementum so you don't have to worry about your tooth dissolving.


rubber dam on manikin
Credit: Coltene - Hygienic

You may think it is dangerous to be using bleach in the mouth but that is why your dentist puts a rubber dam on your tooth. The dam prevents the bleach from going down your throat and coming into contact with the rest of your mouth. Essentially it serves as a protective barrier.


 

Can salt water at least help my toothache?

Do not expect rinsing with salt water to alleviate your toothache because it is NOT a pain reliever. It is an gentle mouth rinse that can prevent post operative infections but that's about it. Therefore, you will not get any pain relief from rinsing or placing it on your tooth.


Taking actual pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen would alleviate the tooth pain much more than attempting to use rubbing alcohol. However, it is safe enough to use so if you want to rinse with it you can.


How to make and use a salt water rinse:

  1. Add a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water.

  2. Stir the saline mixture lightly.

  3. Rinse vigorously for 2 minutes by swishing around.

  4. Spit out and repeat as many times as you wish.


Better alternative

A better alternative for a toothache home remedy than using salt is taking pain medication. It is more effective because it exerts its analgesic effects systemically rather than topically.

  • Pain medication are systemic. You swallow these painkillers and they get distributed via your blood stream. This helps it bypass the dentin and enamel which protect the nerve.

  • Salt water is topical. Unfortunately, rinsing with it will have trouble reaching the pulp because the dentin and enamel insulates the pulp from external stimuli.


Medications that work systemically:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, motrin)

  • Acetaminophen (tylenol)

  • Aspirin


In our opinion, the most effective toothache medication would be Advil dual action because it contains ibuprofen mixed with acetaminophen in its formulation.


When to see a doctor

Salt cannot kill the nerves of your teeth and any attempts at using it will be ineffective toothache home remedy. You should try to get an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if you're having some type of tooth pain.


The home remedies which do work would only alleviate the symptoms temporarily but do nothing to address the source and treat it permanently.


For permanent relief, you should treat the source and that requires the help of a dental professional. Delaying it will only prolong the time that you're in pain. Not seeing the dentist can't be avoided so go make that appointment already! If you're in the area, our dentists in Long Island City can help you.

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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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