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How To Use Anbesol For a Toothache

Updated: Feb 8

The instructions for how to use anbesol is on the label of the product but it leaves much to be desired. There is not only a more effective way to use it but you can make it more targeted as well. Is that toothache coming from the tooth or the gums?

Table of Contents:

What is anbesol?

Anbesol is an over the counter topical anesthetic that is used to relieve toothaches. Most people use it as a tooth pain reliever in order to numb the dental pain that they're having whenever they're unable to make it to the dentist.


The active primary local anesthetic ingredient within it is 20% benzocaine, which is commonly used in dental settings prior to administering the needle. Anbesol is but one of many over the counter brands that utilize benzocaine as the primary numbing agent.

Other products that contain similar ingredients and have a similar effect:

  • Anbesol

  • Orajel

  • Hurricaine

  • Orasol

  • Kanka

Uses for anebesol according to the label:

  • Toothache

  • Sore gums

  • Canker sores

  • Braces

  • Dentures

  • Minor dental procedures

Types of toothaches and how to use anbesol for them

According to the label on the packaging, how to use anbesol is very simple:

Apply a pea-size amount to the affected area up to 4 times daily or as directed by a doctor/dentist.

The instructions aren't that helpful because it's pretty vague and ambiguous. You can actually be more specific in order to make the usage of the product more effective. The first thing you need to do is determine whether the pain is coming from your tooth or the gums around the tooth.

anbesol directions for use

How to use anbesol for tooth pain

This is for when the toothache is coming from within the tooth and not the surrounding gums. The toothache originates from the tooth itself.

  1. Dry - use a cotton pad or paper towel to dry the offending tooth.

  2. Cotton tip - place the numbing gel on a cotton tip for easy application.

  3. Apply - use the cotton tip to swab the entire tooth for 2 minutes.

  4. Spit - do not swallow and spit out excess.

  5. Rinse - wait 5-10 minutes before rinsing your mouth.

The key to making this more effective for a toothache is to dry the tooth before applying the anbesol to it. Saliva will break down the numbing gel and also dilute its strength. It is in your best interest to keep it away from the numbing cream as much as possible.

How to use anbesol for gum pain

This is when the pain isn't coming from the tooth but rather from the gums itself.

  1. Dry - use a cotton pad or paper towel to dry the affected gums.

  2. Cotton tip - place the numbing gel on a cotton tip for easy application.

  3. Apply - use the cotton tip to swab the entire gum area for 2 minutes.

  4. Spit - do not swallow and spit out excess.

  5. Rinse - wait 5-10 minutes before rinsing your mouth.

Since it is a gum type of pain, it is more effective for you to be applying the numbing to the gums rather than the tooth. Seems like a logical idea but a lot of people just rub it everywhere without actually focusing on where the pain is coming from.

Precautions in using anbesol

It may sound great that you have an over the counter topical anesthetic to use at home but it is not without its risks. You should be cautious because there are potential side effects and things that you shouldn't do.

Allergy to anbesol

The numbing agent in anbesol is benzocaine and there are people with severe allergies to it. More specifically they are allergic to esther type of local anesthetics, which benzocaine is a part of.

The product label actually states: "Do not use this product if you have a history of allergy to local anesthetics such as procaine, butacaine, benzocaine, or other "caine" anesthetics."

Can't be used repetitively

Anbesol is also not meant to be used repetitively over a long period of time. In fact, the label says it should only be used up to four times daily. That isn't a problem per say but if you take into account how long the numbing that anbesol provides, it isn't quite enough to alleviate any of your dental pain.

In this article, we explain how orajel which is a product that is similar to anbesol will alleviate your toothache for a maximum of up to 20 minutes total. That is a far cry from what you need if you're going to have a toothache that is constantly bothering you.

You can compare that to ibuprofen or acetaminophen where taking a single pill can last up to 8 hours and you only need to take it 3x in a day. This numbing gel on the other hand can only be applied up to 4x but each application will only last 20 minutes.

That means that you're not able to use anbesol to alleviate any tooth pain that lasts the entire day. It does not cover 24 hours with its maximum usage unlike what traditional pain killers can do.


Usage of anbesol or more specifically benzocaine may potentially cause a rare condition called methemoglobinemia which is life threatening. It is dangerous because it reduces the amount of oxygen that is being delivered to your cells.

Signs of methemoglobinemia from using anbesol:

  • Cyanosis - pale, gray or blue skin

  • Headache

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Shortness of breath

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Fatigue or lack of energy

The risk is higher for children below the age of two and also the elderly. In fact, the label states that you should NOT use it for children under 2 years old for teething purposes.


The benzocaine is actually a category C medication which means that the risks cannot be ruled out in pregnancy. Animal studies have demonstrated risk but there have been no satisfactory human studies. Therefore, we don't truly know if it is harmful to pregnant women or not.

With that in mind, the recommendation for when you should use anbesol in pregnancy is if the benefits only outweigh the risks. It is not that you can't use it but rather you should reserve its use for when it is absolutely necessary. What would qualify would be life threatening situations where the mother's life is in danger.

If you're simply trying to use anbesol for a mild toothache, then the risks would not outweigh the benefits. You should see a dentist to get the toothache treated instead. A great reason is because the pain alleviation is only temporary with this OTC product. You should get a permanent fix or cure instead.


Anbesol is fairly easy to use because you literally just apply it to the affected area. That is basically all that the instructions on the label states. However, if you want it to be more effective you should follow our instructions.

The most important point to remember is to dry the affected area prior to using it. Saliva is detrimental to the numbing agent because it decreases its effectiveness!

Last but not least, don't forget to go in for your dental check up if it has been awhile.


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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