Why Is Orajel Not Working?

If you have a toothache and the Orajel is not working, it could be due to user error, not being used as intended, or trying to treat a severe dental problem. If it is due to either of these issues, you may not get the effect which you may have been looking for, temporary pain relief.


This article will review all three of these possible causes for orajel to not work:



You're not using orajel correctly

It may be surprising but you could be using orajel incorrectly and that is why it is not working. That is not your fault because the instructions on the label of the product are incredibly vague and NOT helpful at all.


These are the instructions on the label by Orajel:

Apply to affected area up to 4 times daily or as directed by a dentist or doctor.

orajel instructions

The instructions leave much to be desired because it does not tell you how to apply the product nor how long it should be applied for.



DailyMed NIH instructions for benzocaine

Fortunately, orajel is mostly benzocaine and the NIH has the proper instructions listed on their website.

adults and children 2 years of age and older: apply to the affected area. Allow to remain in place at least 1 minute and then spit out. Use up to 4 times daily or as directed by a dentist or doctor.

The directions from the NIH are more specific and they tell you how long you're suppose to use it. However, we still feel that the instructions could be even better.



How to use Orajel

This is how dentists use Orajel in order to maximize its numbing effect prior to giving a dental injection:

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

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

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

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

  5. Rinse - you may rinse your mouth with water after 5-10 minutes.


The first step, which is drying the affected area is the most important because orajel works most effectively when the area is dry. A wet area will dilute the gel and decrease its efficacy.




You're not using orajel as it is intended

If you read the label on orajel carefully, it specifically states that it is for the temporary relief of pain due to minor irritation or injury of the mouth and gums. Most people seem to have missed this but we would like to emphasize that the intended use of the product is for MINOR problems.


orajel label

If you're trying to use it for anything but a small problem, it most likely won't work. You will not get any pain relief or barely any at all from it.


Examples of minor dental problems:

  • Very mild toothache

  • Small cut

  • Slight gum swelling

  • Canker sores or cold sores

  • Sore mouth and sore throat

  • Minor injury of the mouth and gums

  • After a minor dental procedure

  • Minor irritation caused by dentures or orthodontic appliances


Basically, if it does not seem "minor" to you, you're better off giving your dentist a call instead of trying this home remedy.




Trying to use orajel to treat a serious dental issue

If you are trying to use orajel for a major dental problem such as a tooth abscess, infection, or facial swelling, it will not work. This numbing gel was never intended to be used for any major toothaches because label specifically states it is for minor issues.



Serious dental issues, which orajel will not work on


Tooth abscess

When the infection stems from the tooth itself. If left untreated it can cause the face to swell up. Very disfiguring and incredibly painful. This is a dental emergency


tooth abscess with facial swelling


Gum abscess

This is when only the gums swell up. The source does not necessarily have to come from the tooth itself. It could be due to a foreign body lodged in the gums or from periodontal disease.


gum swelling around crowns


Root canal pain

Tooth decay which has reached the nerve will cause what is known as root canal pain. This type of pain is so excruciatingly painful that painkillers will not work on it. If the pills don't work, don't expect the numbing gel to have any effect at all.


molar with large cavity into nerve


Wisdom teeth pain

The dreaded pain from impacted wisdom teeth can make your entire face hurt. Salt water rinsing, pain medication, and orajel are all rendered ineffective. The only way to get rid of this is by having the third molars removed.


impacted wisdom tooth

When you have an impacted wisdom tooth like the photo above, the gums which cover the tooth can get inflamed from time to time.



Dry socket

Even after you have the impacted wisdom tooth removed, you could potentially end up with a dry socket. This condition is more painful than the impacted third molar but it is often out of our control. It has nothing to do with drinking through a straw nor getting stitches either!


dry socket


Orajel was never really that effective to begin with

In case you needed more convincing, Orajel was never really THAT effective to begin with. Your dentist actually uses a prescription version of Orajel as the "pre-numbing" gel prior to giving you a dental injection. In case it has been awhile since you've been numb, that pre-numbing gel did very little to nullify the pain from the needle which came afterwards...


Last but not least, even if you had a minor issue, the orajel will only offer temporary pain relief because the effects only last for 20 minutes at most. This means that you would have to continually keep using it every 20 minutes to get rid of the pain. However, the label says to only use it up to four times in a day!



Final thoughts

If you're having tooth pain, Orajel may or may not work depending on if it is a minor problem or a major dental problem. If it is the former, it should help alleviate the symptoms but if it is the latter you won't get much of an effect.


Aside from that, you also have to make sure that you're using the product properly, otherwise you won't reap its full benefit. The most important part of the process is to make sure you dry the area that you're trying to apply the gel to first.


As a final caution, if you are pregnant you should try to avoid using orajel since it is a category C medication. As an alternative, you should seek out dental care instead since it is perfectly safe for you to get treated while pregnant.

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!