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Can Tea Tree Oil Kill a Tooth Nerve?

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Tea tree oil cannot kill a tooth nerve despite its wondrous antimicrobial (antibacterial & antifungal) and analgesic properties. Yes it does have a numbing sensation but when you use it at home may, it most likely won't give you the pain relief that you're looking for.

tea tree oil from trader joes

While this home remedy may not be dangerous, there are much more effective ways to deal with your tooth nerve pain. Nonetheless, if you wanted to know more about why that is the case, just keep on reading.

Table of contents:

How to use tea tree oil for tooth pain

There have been multiple proposed ways to use tea tree oil to relieve a toothache

  • Mouth rinse. Mix a few drops of it in a cup of water and then swish it around your mouth.

  • Apply it on the tooth. Apply a drop or two directly on the affected tooth.

  • Rub it on tooth. Apply a drop on a cotton ball or q-tip and rub it over your aching tooth.

Those are three ways which we've seen people mention online on how to use it.

Is it an analgesic?

Tea tree oil (melaleuca oil) may be more widely known for its antibacterial properties but it does also have analgesic effects as well.

It's analgesia effects have been documented in studies and it is also present as a pain relieving ingredient in some medical products. However, it doesn't seem to be present in any dental products unlike clove oil (eugenol), which is.

Evidence of its analgesic properties

Multiple research studies have mentioned melaleuca oil possessing analgesic traits but we could only find one study which tested its effects.

  • All three essential oils were able to numb the fish.

  • Basil oil was not recommended due to possible death from involuntary muscle contractions.

  • Clove oil was deemed to be the ideal numbing agent.

In summary, tea tree oil was potent enough to numb fish for surgery.

Medical product ingredient

Did you know that tea tree oil is a legitimate ingredient in a medical product called Burnaid? It is an australian first aid product and is not very well known here in the US. The purpose of burnaid is to soothe and relieve pain from burns. When we say burns we mean burns from coming into contact with fire.

Yes, the product does contain the essential oil, 4% tea tree oil to be exact. We've attached an image of the safety data sheet which proves that it contains it.

Burnaid safety data sheet
Burnaid safety data sheet

As for it's efficacy, there has been studies done comparing Burnaid vs aloe vera for relieving pain from burns. Needless to say, they were both effective in reducing pain.

Dentist don't use it

Despite its use for alleviating pain from burns, there are no dental products which utilize it as a primary ingredient. The only essential oil dental products that are available are Listerine and IRM.

Listerine active ingredients - essential oils
Essential Oils

Listerine essential oils:

  • Eucalptol

  • Menthol

  • Methyl salicylate

  • Thymol

IRM contains eugenol which is the oil of cloves.

IRM - material sheet

Are you curious as to why dentists don't use it?

Can it reach the tooth nerve?

The primary reason why tea tree oil is not able to kill the tooth nerve is because it can't reach it. What we mean is that when you apply it topically to the tooth, the oil is unable to penetrate through the layers of your tooth to reach the nerve.

Tooth Anatomy - Mouthhealthy
Credit: Mouthhealthy - ADA

The tooth nerve is insulated and protected from external stimuli with layers of dentin and enamel. In other words, rubbing it on the tooth or swishing it around in your mouth is not sufficient for the melaleuca oil to penetrate through the tooth and affect the nerve.

However, it can be more effective in the hands of your dentist but not in yours at home.

How your dentist uses it more effectively

We can take a cue from how your dentist utilizes clove oil in IRM to calm down an irritated tooth nerve.

The first thing they do is drill a hole through your tooth, thus creating a direct pathway to the tooth nerve. Once they've reached the nerve, they place the IRM (eugenol) directly onto the nerve. That is literally how they are able to bypass the layers of your tooth so that the essential oil can work effectively.

Our theory is that you can probably relieve your toothache with tea tree oil but it would require drilling a hole through the tooth first. You need to be able to put the oil directly onto the pulp for it to exert its effect.

If you don't make a hole, the oil simply won't be able to penetrate through the enamel at all.

Is it toxic?

According to the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, there is only anecdotal evidence from more than 80 years of use that suggest it is relatively safe. That is if it is used topically and in small quantities.

The number of adverse events are usually minor and self-limiting. It may cause skin irritation at higher concentrations.

However there has been occasional case reports about potential toxicity and safety issues.

  • A 4 year old boy ingested a small amount of tea tree oil.

  • After 30 minutes he became ataxic and then became unresponsive.

  • He needed to be intubated by paramedics but he recovered 10 hours later.

Based on that case report, we would say that it can be toxic if you swallow it.

Better alternative

If you wanted a more effective method for relieving a toothache, seeing a dentist is the best course of action. They can permanently kill your tooth nerve which would get rid of it once and for all.

All of these home remedies, even if they are effective will only provide temporary relief. The tooth pain will return because they do not treat the source of the problem.

Best home remedy

We understand that not everyone will be able to get to the dentist immediately which is why we'll provide one way to temporarily lessen the tooth pain that you may be feeling. In our opinion, this one is more effective than rubbing your aching tooth with tea tree oil.

In lieu of the home remedies which we described earlier, you should try taking the best pain killer, Advil Dual Action. It is a painkiller which is formulated with two pain medications (ibuprofen + acetaminophen) into one.

advil dual action

The combination of the two pain medications can drastically decrease your tooth pain much more so than taking a similar dose for each of them separately. Make sure you follow the instructions on the label properly.

The Verdict

Tea tree oil is an analgesic however it won't be very effective in killing your tooth nerve pain because it can't reach the nerve. Although it can potentially be toxic in higher concentrations but is unlikely to cause harm when used topically in small quantities.

Summary of this essential oil's efficacy:

  • It is an analgesic

  • It can't penetrate through to the pulp

  • Unlikely to be toxic in small quantities

Overall, you can give this home remedy a try if you wish but you're only delaying the inevitable which is to see a dentist. We believe it makes no sense to prolong the time that you're in pain so you should just make that dental appointment already! Our emergency dentists in Long Island City can help you if you're in the area.



David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

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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