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Taking Antibiotics Will NOT Stop Your Toothache

No, taking antibiotics will not stop your tooth pain because it is not an analgesic which means it does not have pain relieving effects. It is meant to be used as adjunctive treatment for a tooth infection after you've received treatment from your dentist.


antibiotic amoxicillin

With that being said, it can indirectly help with your toothache but it won't give you the kind of relief that you're expecting. For permanent pain relief you will still need to see a dentist.


Table of Contents:


Antibiotics are not analgesics

The most commonly prescribed antibiotic for a dental infection is amoxicillin and it is not a pain relieving medication. It is specifically labeled as an antibiotic and NOT a painkiller.


amoxicillin vs ibuprofen

Mechanism of action for the antibiotic amoxicillin:

  • It binds to proteins on the inner cell wall of bacteria and inactivates them.

  • Inactivation of the proteins result in loss of bacterial cell wall and rigidity.

  • Ultimately, weakening of the cell wall will lead to cell lysis (bacteria dies by popping).


What amoxicillin does (including other antibiotics) is they directly target and exert their effects on bacteria. It's purpose is to kill bacteria and does nothing else.


How pain relievers are different

Painkillers on the other hand will directly target your body's pain receptors and block them. Blocking the pain receptors will prevent you from feeling pain and that is how you get pain relief from your toothache.


Essentially, analgesics work very differently from antibiotics. The former relieves your pain while the later kills bacteria. Those are two very different actions with different results.


This is why your dentist will give you an antibiotic AND pain medication after wisdom teeth removal. If the antibiotic can stop a toothache, your dentist wouldn't even give you any painkillers at all!


It's considered adjunctive therapy

People often think that antibiotics will stop all of their tooth pain and get rid of their infection which is simply not true. The vast majority of dental conditions cannot be successfully treated with antibiotics alone because they require dentist intervention.


Painful dental conditions:

  • Broken tooth

  • Tooth decay into the nerve

  • Wisdom teeth pain

  • Irreversible pulpitis (sporadic pain that wakes you up at night)

  • Missing or broken dental filling

  • Dental abscess


All of these conditions that are listed above can only be properly treated by a dentist. The antibiotics will do nothing to fix your broken tooth nor get rid of your wisdom teeth pain.


Only professional dental treatment can treat the source of your toothache and give you lasting pain relief. Antibiotics may be given adjunctively to help your body clear out the infection quicker but taking it alone will do little to treat the source.


Antibiotics will not cure dental abscesses alone

You may think that taking antibiotics should at least get rid of tooth pain that is caused by an abscess but the truth is different.


abscess on the gums
abscess on the gums

If your face is swelling from a severe abscess, taking amoxicillin without any other dental treatment will not make the swelling go away. What you'll often find is that your face will still be swollen even after you've begun taking it!

  • 1 day will pass and there will be no improvement.

  • 2 days will pass and you're still swollen.

  • 3 days have pass and your face is still twice the size as usual.


The reason this happens is because it is considered an adjunctive therapy and not a primary form of dental treatment. As you can imagine, you'll still be in pain even with taking all of the amoxicillin since your face is still the size of a swelled up balloon.


Will antibiotics help with tooth pain?

Despite the fact that antibiotics are not painkillers, it does help in relieving tooth pain but in an indirect way that is much slower.


Yes, it doesn't block your pain receptors while you take it so you will still feel pain. However, if there is some type of bacterial infection, it can help reduce the bacterial population. Once the amount of infection has decreased, you may get some pain relief from that.


That is what we mean by it can indirectly help alleviate some pain. Although that whole process can take days for it to occur so you may not get any pain alleviation until days later.


That is typically not what most people are looking for. People are in pain and they want to kill the toothache instantly if possible. You're better off looking elsewhere if that's what you want.


Takeaway

If you're having a toothache and you happen to have some left over antibiotics in the medicine cabinet... It most likely won't get rid of your dental pain. As a reminder, this medication is not meant to relieve pain because it's sole purpose is to eradicate bacteria.


Those are two completely different mechanisms of actions and produce very different effects. If you want to be pain free, you should give your dentist a call and schedule a consultation.

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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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