A temporary filling is the only effective home remedy for a broken tooth with an exposed nerve because it can cover up the exposure and effectively eliminate the toothache.
However this is a temporary measure so you'll still need to see a dentist for a permanent fix. Only they can repair a broken tooth so this DIY remedy is only meant to hold you over until you can see them. Although we do want you to know that while it can work, there are some situations where it'll be completely ineffective.
Table of Contents:
What to do at home
The first thing you should do for a broken tooth with an exposed nerve is to take pain medication (ibuprofen or acetaminophen). Then you should head out to the pharmacy to purchase a temporary filling kit. It takes about an hour for the pain relief to take effect so by the time you come back some of the pain should be alleviated and you'll be ready to begin.
The home remedy for a broken tooth with an exposed nerve:
Take pain medication an hour prior to starting.
Brush, floss and rinse your mouth so you the affected tooth is clean.
Apply temporary filling to broken tooth.
Scoop a small amount of the material out of the jar.
Roll it into a small ball with your fingers.
Place into the broken tooth.
Wet a cotton tip with water.
Push and adapt the temporary filling with the cotton tip.
Bite your teeth together and grind side to side a few times until bite feels normal.
Wait an hour for it to set before you eat or drink.
Schedule an appointment with your dentist for a permanent solution.
Step by step instructions with photos
It may be daunting to use the temporary filling material especially if its your first time. Therefore we've provided photos as visual aid for each step to guide you through the process.
The steps below will be demonstrated on an actual stone model of one of our patients.
Step 1 - Scoop out temporary material
Make sure you wash your hands before you begin. You don't want to be introducing bacteria into the exposed tooth nerve.
Step 2 - Roll the temporary into a ball with your fingers
When it is in a ball shape, it just makes it easier for it to be placed onto the tooth. An unrolled glob will go all over the place.
Step 3 - Place the temporary onto the affected tooth
This image shows what it looks like by just placing it on top of the tooth without any adaptation. As you can see, it is merely sitting on top of it.
Step 4 - Wet a cotton tip
Take a Q-tip and run it under water for a brief second to wet it. This will be the tool which we'll be using to adapt the temp material.
Step 5 - Adapt the temp material with the wet cotton tip
A wet cotton tip makes it easy to push the material into the tooth. Push down a couple of times and swipe it left, right, and around so that it becomes well adapted.
When it is well adapted, it should look flush with the rest of the tooth. You can compare it to the photo of when it was not adapted.
Step 6 - Bite down and grind your teeth together
Last but not least you want to bite down a couple of times. Then you want to bite down and grind side to side. These motions will further help to adapt the temporary material and ensure that the bite is correct.
If you forget to do this part, the bite may feel off and you won't be able to close completely.
What to watch out for
There are two things to keep in mind while using this product.
Work quickly once you place the filling in your mouth. The material is designed to set and harden once it comes into contact with saliva. If you dawdle, it may harden before you finish getting the bite right. If that happens you won't be able to close your mouth normally, then you'll need to see your dentist ASAP.
The filling slowly dissolves every time you eat. This is a temporary material so it's not meant to last forever. You'll notice small pieces of it dissolve after every meal. That is a gentle reminder that you still need to see your dentist for permanent treatment.
Do these OTC products really work?
Surprisingly these OTC products share a lot of ingredients with the professional ones that your dentist uses. The main ingredient for both types of products seems to be zinc oxide. Some of them even contain eugenol (clove oil) to help soothe the irritated nerve.
Professional product - Cavit G
The main ingredient in Cavit G is zinc oxide but the exact formulation is non-disclosed due to it being a trade secret by 3M. We often use this as a temporary filling material such as after root canals or in a tooth with pulp exposure from a deep cavity.
OTC product - Temporary filling
An OTC product like the temporary filling kit from walgreens also contains zinc oxide powder. That means it has the same exact base ingredient as the Cavit G. An additional perk for this product is that it has eugenol in it so when you open it, you'll get a whiff of that distinct clove smell.
When this works vs doesn't work
When it works
This home remedy for a broken tooth with an exposed nerve will only work for reversible pulpitis. That means you're only having tooth pain or sensitivity from provoked stimuli.
Examples of provoked tooth pain:
It's sensitive when you drink hot or cold beverages.
It hurts when you eat hot or cold foods.
It's painful when you suck in cold air.
Basically it only hurts when you do something to the tooth. Otherwise if you're not doing anything it doesn't hurt. That is essentially the definition of reversible pulpitis. The discomfort stems from intentionally provoking it with stimuli.
Why it works
In all of the examples provided above, the pain comes from stimuli which touches the exposed nerve. The nerve is exposed because the tooth is broken open.
Therefore the solution is simple, you cover up the broken part of the tooth so that the nerve is no longer exposed. Since it won't be exposed with a temporary filling covering it, stimuli can no longer provoke the nerve. Ultimately, you should experience pain relief.
When it doesn't work
Putting a temporary filling in a broken tooth with an exposed nerve will not work if you have irreversible pulpitis. This condition is characterized by spontaneous tooth nerve pain that is unprovoked.
Examples of unprovoked tooth pain:
Raging toothache that wakes you up in the middle of the night.
Tooth starts pulsating even while you're sitting there working or watching TV.
Pain that comes and goes randomly.
It hurts even while you're not eating or drinking.
Essentially the temporary filling will have no effect because the toothache does not stem from stimuli touching the exposed nerve. You're having pain sporadically and spontaneously so even if you have the temporary in there, you'll still be in pain.
Ultimately, at home care will have zero effect on your tooth condition. Your only option is to see a dentist for nerve treatment.
The home care may alleviate your toothache but it is only temporary because the temporary filling doesn't last forever. Therefore you should still seek out a permanent solution by visiting your dentist to have the broken tooth repaired.
The treatment options may differ depending on a couple of factors:
Extent of the fracture. Is the crack mild, moderate, or catastrophic?
Health status of tooth nerve. Reversible pulpitis doesn't require nerve treatment while irreversible pulpitis does.
Filling. A small chip on a tooth can be sufficiently repaired with a bonded composite resin tooth filling.
Crown. If the fracture involves 50% of the tooth or more, a filling may not be adequate. The tooth would benefit from a full coverage restoration like an a ceramic crown.
Root canal. Irreversible pulpitis will require nerve treatment because the nerve is unhealthy. Simply placing a crown on the tooth won't treat the nerve.
Extraction. A tooth that is severely broken such as down to the gum line cannot be restored. It will need to be removed from the mouth entirely.
If you have any questions, you should discuss it with your dentist.
If you're having a toothache from a broken tooth with an exposed nerve, you can treat it at home with a temporary filling. It will temporarily alleviate the symptoms until you can make it to your dentist for a permanent repair.