Updated: Oct 14, 2022
There is a plethora of conditions which can irritate a tooth nerve and cause it to become inflamed. That is usually not a pleasant situation to be in because it'll often be sensitive or even painful to perform everyday activities such as eating or speaking.
Fortunately, this irritation can be transient and will go away if you take steps to calm the irritated nerve. This can be done by removing the offending agents and also by allowing it to rest and recover. If everything is done properly, the nerve of the tooth should return back to normal within a week or two.
However, if you did not implement measures to calm the irritated nerve, the tooth could go in an irreversible direction and cause the nerve to die. If that happens, you'll need to utilize one of the two last resorts in order to get pain relief from the inflamed tooth nerve.
Ways to calm an irritated tooth nerve:
Chew on the other side
One of the first and simplest things that you can do to not cause further irritation to the inflamed tooth nerve is by chewing on the other side. Basically, you would avoid chewing on the offending time temporarily in order to give it a chance to recover.
Essentially what is happening is that you're laying off of it and allowing it time to heal. This concept has been used for all sorts of injuries that go beyond your mouth. For instance, if you sprained your ankle or wrist, you would try to not use it as much. That allows it to have time to rest and heal. Your tooth is no different because it may just need more time.
It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. If the tooth nerve is already inflamed, why would you keep aggravating it? You have to leave it alone for awhile, which is what our next point is about.
Leave it alone
Try your best to not irritate the already irritated nerve of the tooth. One of the things you can do is to avoid chewing on it but aside from that you should try your best to not purposefully aggravate it.
List of activities which may make it worse and also what you should avoid doing:
Stop using your tongue to play around with it.
Don't pick at it with a toothpick.
Stop touching it with your fingers.
Let it rest by leaving it alone as much as possible. If you're intentionally playing around with it or trying to manipulate it in any way, you could very well be making it worse.
Although we do have to say that even though we say to leave it alone, it does not excuse you from brushing and flossing that tooth. You should still try your best to keep it as clean as possible, free of food and debris because those can be contributing to the irritation.
Avoid offending foods
Foods at extreme ends of the spectrum can certainly irritate the already inflamed tooth nerve and make it worse. In fact, these types of foods can even irritate a non-inflamed nerve so that is one good reason to avoid these offending foods.
List of possible offending foods which you should avoid:
Very sweet treats - sugar, cookies, cakes, and etc.
Very hot foods - soups, hot pizza, hot pasta, and etc.
Very cold foods - ice cold water, ice cream straight out of the fridge, and etc.
Very acidic foods - limes, lemons, salad dressings and etc.
Very spicy foods - thai food, indian food, hot sauce, chili peppers and etc.
Very hard foods - crunchy granola, hard bread, crab legs, and etc.
If you want the tooth to calm down, you should be helping it to recover by avoiding these offending foods. It makes no sense to aggravate it by feeding it with foods that will make the tooth more sensitive and the pain even worse.
Take an anti-inflammatory medication
One of the best things that you can do to calm an irritated tooth nerve that is inflamed is by taking an anti-inflammatory pain killer. Ibuprofen is one such medication that is most commonly used and prescribed by your dentist because it has those two effects.
Ibuprofen is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) so it does help in reducing inflammation. The great thing about it is that it is also a pain reliever so it can help in reducing tooth pain as well.
Anti-inflammatory. An irritated nerve is an inflamed one so if you want to calm it down, you should bring down the inflammation. What better way to do it than to simply take an anti-inflammatory medication.
Pain reliever. The inflamed nerve can also be sensitive and painful at times. By taking a pain killer, you can reduce the amount of pain coming from the irritated nerve.
It also helps that ibuprofen is available over the counter, which means that you can easily purchase it at any pharmacy. You don't even need a prescription for it and most people already have a bottle in their medicine cabinet since it can also be used for common colds. If you have it, you may as well take some every 8 hours to see if it helps calm the tooth down.
Take an antibiotic
Sometimes your tooth could be hurting if it is infected by bacteria in your mouth. In cases like these, taking the antibiotic can help calm the nerve of the tooth down. Since it is bacteria causing the inflammation, if you reduce the amount of bacteria the inflammation should subside.
There are rare situations where an ear infection can cause referred pain to your tooth. It'll feel like your tooth is hurting and that it is inflamed but in actuality it is actually an infection inside of your ear that is responsible for it.
In fact, here is a study showing a plethora of other conditions which masquerade as tooth pain, making you think it is an irritated nerve:
Neurovascular and vascular
Ear and nose
If these other conditions are caused by a bacterial infection, taking oral antibiotics should resolve that problem. That in turn should solve the referred pain to the irritated pulp.
Have your dentist adjust the bite
If you had dental work done on the tooth recently, a probable cause for the inflammation could be an uneven bite. The filling or crown could be "high" and all your dentist needs to do is polish it down so that the bite becomes more even.
What to expect for the adjusting appointment:
Your dentist will use articulating paper which is colored paper and place it in between your teeth. You will bite down on it a couple of times pretending like you're chewing on it. It will leave colored marks on your tooth where it could be hitting hard. Those colored spots just need to be relieved of the extra pressure.
After that appointment, the tooth may still be sore or tender for a few days since its been traumatized. You should still follow the protocol for how to calm a tooth nerve so that you can let it heal faster.
Chew on the opposite side.
Avoid playing around with it.
Take an anti-inflammatory drug.
Now onto everyone's favorite section and what you've all been waiting for, DIY home remedies that can calm the nerve of your inflamed tooth. We've separated them out to recommended home remedies which we think may work and also those that are commonly recommended but may not be very effective.
Recommended home remedies for calming tooth nerves
These are tried and true remedies which have helped relieve some of the pressure, pain, and inflammation from an aggravated tooth.
Raise your head
Elevate your head
When you're laying down you may find that the toothache feels worse. The reason is that you're laying completely flat, the blood can rush up to the head and the blood can pool around the affected tooth.
This increase in pressure can potentially make the pain feel worse than it is. What you'll notice is if you elevate your head with an extra pillow, you'll often find that it feels better almost immediately.
Using an ice pack or anything cold on the side of your face with the affected tooth can often help alleviate some of the pain. The cold will numb the area and make it feel significantly better.
Just remember to use it for about 10-15 minutes on and then take it off for 10-15 minutes. You can do it a little longer but make sure you alternate it on and off. It is a little too much to have it on your face permanently. That could potentially cause you frost bite if you do!
In lieu of a cold compress, sometimes a warm compress can make the area feel better. The typical recommendation is to actually use a cold compress for the first 72 hours and then switch to a warm one afterwards. This technique is used very often for bruises.
Therefore, the warm compress is actually used in conjunction with the cold compress. You can give it a try to see if it works. This will be especially effective if the nerve pain is actually referred from muscular pain or TMJ issues.
Just remember to follow the 10-15 minutes alternating rule just like the cold compress. You don't want to leave it on for too long because you can burn your face.
Salt water rinse
Rinsing with salt water is one of the most gentle mouthwashes that you can possibly use. In fact, it is the only one that is recommended after having a tooth extraction. Most other rinses are too acidic and will burn or aggravate the injured area.
How rinsing with salt can help with calming down the nerve is that it helps in reducing plaque and food build up around the tooth. Those are potential contributors that make the tooth more sensitive. It'll also help reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth as well.
How to use it:
4 oz of water - add room temperature water to a cup.
1 teaspoon of salt - add salt to water. Any salt will work such as table salt or even sea salt. Just make sure the solution is saturated with salt.
Stir mixture - lightly stir the salt and water together.
Rinse for 1-2 minutes - swish and gargle around your mouth for up to 2 minutes.
Spit out. Make sure you spit out the solution because you don't want to swallow all of that salt along with food and bacteria.
Hydrogen peroxide rinse
Studies have shown that simply rinsing with a 6% hydrogen peroxide solution can kill half of the bacteria within 15 seconds. That is pretty effective in reducing bacterial load in your mouth.
How to use it:
Fill up half a cup with 4 oz of room temperature water.
Add 4 oz of hydrogen peroxide in a 1:2 ratio.
Lightly stir the mixture.
Gargle and swish with the rinse for 30-60 seconds.
DO NOT SWALLOW IT. Spit it out and rinse with water.
Repeat for up to three times a day as needed.
Try at your own risk home remedies
These are commonly touted DIY remedies that you can use at home. You certainly won't find your dentist using any of these but that hasn't stopped people from trying! There are studies which show that they do have anti-bacterial effects but how effective they are, are questionable. Otherwise we'd be using them in dental offices.
Peppermint tea bag
You can use this as a mouth rinse but you first need to brew some peppermint tea. After it has cooled down, you can swish it around your mouth for as long as you like. See if it helps.
Cloves is actually an ingredient which is used in some dental products, particularly eugenol. It can potentially kill a tooth nerve when used directly on it so that actually makes it toxic. Do you consider a dead tooth nerve as a calm one?
This is technically approved by the UK for use in alleviating tooth pain but it is NOT approved by the FDA in the US. We leave that decision up to you but since we're US based, we've placed this under the try at your own risk category.
There are studies showing antibacterial properties with garlic so you can try using it. You can either mash it into a paste or chew on raw garlic. However, if the tooth hurts to chew on chewing garlic on it may not be the smartest thing to do!
Leaves from the guava fruit does have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. You can brew it into a tea or simply chew on the leaves. This fruit isn't as common in the US so it may not be as easy for you to obtain.
For thyme you can apply the oil directly onto the affected tooth or you can turn it into a mouthwash. For the mouth rinse you can put a few drops into a cup of water and then swish it around. Just remember to spit it out.
Studies have shown that this essential oil does have antibacterial properties. It is a very common home remedy and it shares a lot of similarities with oregano oil.
Studies have shown that wheat grass has powerful antioxidant properties. You can give it a try to see if it'll help calm down the nerve of your tooth. You can find juice made from it which you can rinse with.
Just be sure to check the sugar content because if it contains a lot, you may want to choose an alternative remedy. You don't want to end up causing yourself cavities by trying to relieve a toothache!
Last resort - Root canal or Extraction
If you've literally tried everything in the list above and NOTHING seems to be working, the only two options that you have left would be a root canal or tooth extraction. Either of those two procedures will definitively make the nerve pain go away.
Those procedures can only be performed by a dentist so that means you will need to make an appointment. After all, that is precisely why we call it as the last resort because everything else has failed to give you pain relief from the tooth nerve. These two techniques are how you can permanently kill a tooth nerve.
This procedure will separate the nerve from the tooth but the tooth will stay intact within the mouth. The purpose is to extract the offending nerve so that your tooth no longer feels any sensations. Once there is no more nerve, it won't experience any pain or sensitivity thus calming your irritated tooth permanently.
These are x-rays of a before and after root canal procedure:
After the nerve is removed from the tooth, the canal is filled in with a root canal filling material called gutta percha. You can tell that a tooth has had this procedure done on it when you see a white filling material inside the root of the tooth like in the x-ray above.
Having the entire tooth removed is truly a last resort in calming an irritated tooth nerve because it is irreversible. Once the tooth is taken out, it won't grow back so you should really think about whether or not this is the best option for your mouth.
We usually reserve this treatment for a tooth which is deemed hopeless such as a fractured tooth or an infection that we're unable to treat. A fractured tooth cannot be saved since we can't glue it back together. A severe infection may render the tooth hopeless if it makes it non-restorable.
In addition to that, sometimes cost becomes a determining factor as well. A root canal with a crown is significantly more expensive than simply taking the tooth out. That is the immediate cost difference.
However, if you factor in that you'll replace the extracted tooth with an implant later on, the cost will usually end up being roughly the same. Sometimes it can cost even more depending on what type of implant that you're getting.
Just as there are as many things that can irritate your tooth nerve, there are an equal amount of ways that can calm it. You can give any of the techniques above a try to see if it helps but if all else fails, the best thing to do would be to see your dentist.
In fact, you could even skip all of the above methods on how to calm a tooth nerve and go directly to your dentist. They can usually give you an instantaneous solution that will get rid of that irritated nerve pain.
The fact of the matter is that when you try to do this at home, you're not really sure what is causing the irritation. Thus, you try to randomly throw remedies at it to see what sticks. It is obviously a lot better if you know what it is and just prescribe a single treatment for it.
You won't be disappointed if you see your dentist! In fact, our emergency dentists in Long Island City will be more than happy to assist you if you're close by.