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Will Rubbing Alcohol Kill My Tooth Nerve?

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) is an amazing antiseptic solution but it can't kill your tooth nerve because that's not what it's meant to be used for. If you were hoping that it could be a home remedy to alleviate your toothache, you may want to look elsewhere.


rubbing alcohol 70%

Since you're so curious about why rubbing alcohol can kill all sorts of bacteria but not your nerve, we will oblige and explain why. Yes, it is an amazing disinfectant but that's a completely different story.


Table of Contents:


Does rubbing alcohol kill the tooth nerve?

Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol is an antiseptic that has been clinically proven to be a low level disinfectant in healthcare settings. Despite its disinfectant and antiseptic properties, it does not possess the ability to kill your tooth nerve pain.


There are two barriers which prevents it from doing so:

  • The isopropyl alcohol is unable to reach the pulp which contains the nerve.

  • It was NOT designed to kill the nerves of your teeth.


Unable to reach the pulp

Rubbing alcohol is unable to penetrate through the enamel which means it won't be able to reach the pulp. Basically all of the nerves are located within the middle of the tooth and is protected by the enamel and dentin layers. In other words, the antiseptic will have a difficult time reaching the center of the tooth.


tooth anatomy diagram
Credit: Mouthhealthy

Essentially, if it can't even get to the nerve, it will have no way of affecting it. That means killing it is physically impossible even if you wished it to do so.


Last but not least, don't forget that isopropyl alcohol evaporates very quickly. It will dry up in less than a minute and disappear. What we're trying to say is that it barely has enough time to act or work on your tooth even if it could reach the nerve.


Not designed to kill nerves

Rubbing alcohol can kill bacteria but killing nerves isn't one of them because it was never designed to do so. The label doesn't mention anything about eliminating your tooth pulp. In fact, it specifically says that it should only be used externally and not intraorally.


Rubbing alcohol label - warnings and purposes

Uses:

  • Minor cuts

  • Scrapes

  • Burns


Warnings:

  • For external use only

  • If taken intraorally serious gastric disturbances will result


Well there you have it, you're NOT supposed to use it intraorally. The label specifically says for external use only.


What happens if you use it in the mouth?

Using it in your mouth may make you inebriated because it does contain alcohol and a very high percentage of it. The typical rubbing alcohol is roughly 70% isopropyl alcohol but it can go above 90% for some variations.


Basically, it will get you drunk and cause stomach issues rather than deaden your tooth nerve.


What will kill the nerve of the tooth?

If you wanted to know how to kill the nerve of your tooth, you should take a cue from what your dentist does. There are three methods which they use that can deaden the nerve.

  • Root canal treatment by physically removing it from the tooth.

  • Tooth extraction which removes the entire tooth with the nerve from the mouth.

  • Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) in the pulp chamber during a root canal.


A common theme among all three of these techniques is that they are very physical. They mechanically treat the pulp by either removing it physically or placing chemicals directly on it.


Home remedies aren't effective on the nerve simply due to the fact that it can't reach it. In order to effectively affect the pulp, you need direct access to it. Your dentist does this by drilling a hole through the the enamel and dentin to reach it.


Root canal

A root canal procedure will extirpate the nerve from the tooth by directly removing it. Your tooth stays in the jaw but the nerve will be gone from the tooth. This is one of the most common ways that your dentist uses to "kill" the nerve.


root canal steps diagram

After the procedure is completed, the tooth is considered dead because it can no longer feel cold, hot, or any sensitivity at all. It is dead on the inside and will have zero sensations.


Extraction

A tooth extraction will remove the entire tooth along with its nerves from the mouth. This is a more invasive treatment option for eliminating the nerve pain.


extraction of a tooth
extraction of a tooth

Afterwards you may want to consider replacing the missing tooth with either an implant or a bridge. Having one less tooth will affect your ability to chew and eat. Replacing it will improve the quality of your life.


Bleach

For those who've had root canals done, you'll quickly notice the smell of bleach during middle of the procedure. That is because your dentist irrigates and disinfects the canals by using sodium hypochlorite (bleach) inside of the tooth.


We all know how potent it can be and how it can literally kill almost every bacteria and virus, including the coronavirus. When used inside of the tooth, it will dissolve the nerve and other infected tissues within it. However what it doesn't do is dissolve the enamel, dentin, or cementum so you don't have to worry about the tooth melting away.


You may think it is dangerous to be using bleach in the mouth but that is why your dentist puts a rubber dam on your tooth. The dam prevents the bleach from going down your throat and coming into contact with the rest of your mouth. Essentially it serves as a protective barrier.


CAUTION: Please do not attempt to rinse your mouth out with bleach in an attempt to kill the tooth nerve. There are major consequences because things will go wrong.

  1. The bleach can't reach the pulp unless you drill a hole through the tooth so that makes it ineffective.

  2. If you swallow bleach you will end up in the emergency department of a hospital.


Can rubbing alcohol at least help my toothache?

Do not expect isopropyl alcohol to alleviate your toothache because it is NOT a pain reliever. It is an antiseptic solution and that is all that it was meant to be. Therefore, you will not get any pain relief from rinsing or placing it on your tooth.


Taking actual pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen would alleviate the tooth pain much more than attempting to use rubbing alcohol. This also debunks the claim that vanilla extract's alcohol content helps to numb the pain.


When to see a doctor

You should try to get an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if you're having pain in your tooth. The home remedies which do work are only palliative in nature, which means they temporarily alleviate the symptoms but do nothing to address the source.


For permanent relief, you should treat the source and that requires the help of a dental professional.


Takeaway

Rubbing alcohol cannot kill the nerves of your tooth and any attempts at using it will be ineffective. Rather than deaden the nerve, it'll get you inebriated instead. In other words, it doesn't work as a toothache home remedy.


Perhaps being drunk may make you forget the tooth pain but an unbearable toothache will still affect you even while being under the influence. You should see a dentist immediately instead.

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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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