Clove Oil For Toothache: Fact or Fiction?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Clove oil can temporarily alleviate a toothache because it’s an analgesic but it’s only effective for specific tooth conditions. That means despite its analgesic benefits, it may not provide you tooth pain relief if you use it improperly.

We will explain what we mean by that and go over everything that you need to know about it.

NOW - clove oil

However, you should keep in mind that the oil of cloves is still a home remedy which means it does not treat the tooth pain source. If you want to kill your tooth nerve permanently, you’ll still need to see a dentist to treat the etiology of your toothache.

Does it work?

Clove oil (eugenol) is an essential oil that is derived from cloves and it can help reduce your tooth pain by numbing the nerve.

It works because it is a legitimate analgesic and its effects have been proven in research studies. As further proof, eugenol is an ingredient in many professional dental products used by dentists. Is that convincing enough for you?

It’s an analgesic

Studies have demonstrated that eugenol is an analgesic and can be used in place of traditional anesthesia. We’ll provide three research studies as reference.

Efficacy of clove oil along with basil and tea tree were used on clownfish to test adequacy of surgical anesthesia.

  • All three essential oils were sufficient in preparing the fish for surgery.
  • Eugenol was found to be the ideal anesthetic for fish over the other two.
  • Basil oil was too toxic to be recommended.

Analgesic effects of clove oil were tested on mice along with its potential relationship with the opioid receptor. That is the same receptor that the likes of morphine, percocet, and vicodin all block for pain.

  • Mice were all injected with eugenol and placed on a hot plate.
  • One group of mice were injected with Naloxone (opioid antagonist) an opioid reversal agent.
  • Analgesia effects were present in all of the mice but the effects were reduced in the group that received Naloxone.
  • Conclusion was that the opioid antagonist did affect the effects of clove oil which implies that eugenol does affect the opioid receptor.

Tested the efficacy of clove oil cream on treating chronic anal fissures.

  • Double blind study which compared 1% clove oil vs lignocaine cream.
  • The clove oil group showed significant reduction in resting anal pressure and almost all other anorectal manometric pressures compared with patients in control group.
  • Eugenol cream was found to have a beneficial effect on those suffering from chronic anal fissures.

In summary, this essential oil is a proven analgesic agent and will provide pain relief to all sorts of bodily ailments.

Dentists use it

The fact that professional dental products contain eugenol should be more than enough evidence that it can be used to alleviate a toothache. Examples would be your dentist using IRM (intermediate restorative material) to calm a tooth nerve and dry socket paste to reduce dry socket pain.

IRM

In between root canal visits, dentists often use IRM as a sedative temporary filling material to help relieve tooth nerve pain. If you wondered why you smelled cloves during the endodontic appointment, it is because of IRM.

IRM - eugenol based dental product
Liquid bottle smells like cloves!

The liquid really does contain the oil of cloves in it. The safety data sheet is provided below.

IRM - material sheet

In our experience, the patients will come in with excruciating pain but afterwards with the IRM in their tooth, they feel much better.

Dry socket paste

A rare complication from wisdom teeth removal is a painful condition called a dry socket. The pain is so excruciating that patients often tell us that it hurts worse than before the tooth was removed.

dry socket paste - sultan healthcare

A cure does not exist but palliative treatment to help reduce the pain does. The go to pain relieving product is dry socket paste which is composed of eugenol. The directions sheet below indicate that the paste contains 4% clove oil.

Dry socket paste - directions for use

Note of interest: You may have also noticed that the dry socket paste contains 4% guaicol in addition to the 4% eugenol. You know that the former is a precursor to vanillin right? Yes, artificial vanilla flavor… so do you think vanilla extract can kill the tooth nerve as well?

Your dentist will literally scoop this paste and place it directly into your tooth extraction socket and leave it in there. You will experience a drastic decrease in post-extraction socket pain .

How to use it

There are three common ways to use clove oil for toothaches.

  1. Add 1-2 drops of the oil into a cup of water.
  2. Rinse with it by swishing around for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Spit out and rinse out with water thoroughly.
  4. Repeat 2-3x per day.
  1. Place a drop of the oil directly over the affected tooth.
  2. Let it sit on your tooth for as long as possible.
  3. Spit out and rinse if you accumulate too much saliva.
  4. You don’t want to swallow any of this essential oil.
  5. You may repeat this 2-3x a day.
  1. Squeeze a drop onto a cotton ball or q-tip.
  2. Dab it onto the affected tooth and surrounding gums.
  3. Leave it on the tooth for as long as possible.
  4. If you start pooling saliva, spit out.
  5. Rinse out thoroughly once you’ve finished.
  6. Repeat 2-3x per day as needed.

Where to buy

Clove oil is readily available at most pharmacies and supermarkets. They’re typically located in the vitamins and health supplement aisle. Alternatively you could always just purchase this online if you can’t find it in person.

How to make it

You can make your own and it requires purchasing ground cloves but the process may take a week or so to complete. It will definitely be faster if you purchase the oil version of it directly.

  1. Crush 1/2 teaspoon of cloves with a mortar and pestle.
  2. Add the crushed spice into a jar.
  3. Add 1/2 a cup of olive oil into the jar.
  4. Let the solution marinade for 1 week.
  5. Strain out the oil and you’ve literally made your own!

Since there are no preservatives in this, your DIY eugenol may last up to 3 months.

When it helps and doesn’t

Despite clove oil’s tooth numbing potency it works most effectively if you’re able to apply it directly onto the tooth nerve. If you’re not able to place it into the pulp, the effectiveness dramatically decreases.

When clove oil is effective for a toothache

The clove oil is most effective at relieving a toothache when you have an exposed nerve. That means you’ve an open cavity or when a dentist drills a hole through the tooth to expose it.

It works because the essential oil is able to act directly on the inflamed and irritated nerve tissue. There is no barrier in the way preventing this home remedy from exerting its analgesic effects.

When clove oil doesn’t work

The oil of clove is NOT effective if you’re trying to douse an intact tooth with it. The essential oil will never be able to penetrate through the layers of enamel and dentin to even reach the tooth nerve.

Tooth Anatomy - Mouthhealthy
Credit: Mouthhealthy – ADA

Nature has designed the pulp of the tooth to be protected and insulated from external stimuli with layers of dentin and enamel. These layers protect it from injury and also your toothache home remedy. That is the unfortunate truth.

Your dentist is able to bypass these barriers by drilling a hole through your tooth, thus creating direct access to the pulp chamber. From there, they can place their eugenol based product directly into the nerve.

Is clove oil safe?

This home remedy is relatively safe to use but it can be harmful when misused or abused. It is safe because it is a spice and can be commonly found in foods and other everyday products. Although the fact that it’s a food does not preclude it from adverse effects such as from overdosing.

Food recipes with cloves:

  • Clove and cider glazed ham
  • Curried pumpkin and buss up shut
  • TCM inspired mulled wine
  • Olive Oil Cake with Buttercream Frosting and Sour Candied Oranges
  • Pork Rib Roast with Sweet Onion Puree and Crisp Sage Tempura

You’re literally consuming this spice and that is an attestation to it’s safety.

Aside from the food uses, don’t forget that cloves are also a popular ingredient in cigars such as the Djarum Black. Yes, you can smoke it. It’s an indonesian brand but you can find it here in the US.

djarum black - clove cigars

I smoke once in a blue moon like every other year or something like that. Just to let you know, I’ve tried a couple of these back in my college days and from what I remember, it did have a really nice fragrant clove smell to them. Much more pleasant than regular nicotine products in my opinion.

For the record, no you shouldn’t smoke because it is hazardous to your health.

Side effects

When eugenol is used in low doses, there are very few side effects but exposure or ingestion in large quantities can lead to overdose.

Low dose adverse effects:

  • Local irritation
  • Rare alelrgic reactions
  • Contact dermatitis

High dose adverse effects:

  • Tissue injury
  • Acute seizures
  • Coma
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage

Please do be mindful of how much of it you’re using because there was a case report of a 15 month old boy who ingested 10 ml of clove oil. That resulted in liver failure but luckily he was successfully treated with intravenous administration of N-acetylcysteine.

Better alternative for toothache

A better alternative for a toothache home remedy than clove oil is taking pain medication. It is more effective because it exerts its analgesic effects systemically rather than topically.

  • Pain medication are systemic. You swallow these painkillers and they get distributed via your blood stream. This helps it bypass the dentin and enamel which protect the nerve.
  • Essential oils are topical. Unfortunately the only way to apply these oils including cloves, are to use it topically. Rinsing or dabbing it on the tooth will have trouble reaching the pulp especially for an intact tooth.

Medication which works for a toothache:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, motrin)
  • Acetaminophen (tylenol)
  • Aspirin

Best painkiller for toothache

In our opinion, the most effective toothache medication would be Advil dual action because it contains ibuprofen mixed with acetaminophen in its formulation.

advil dual action - bottle next to box view 2
Advil dual action – ibuprofen with acetaminophen

Studies have shown that when these two painkillers are taken together, they exert a greater analgesic effect than if you only took one of them. The reason is because they inhibit pain via slightly different mechanisms.

acetaminophen with ibuprofen pain relief chart
Credit: Paul A. Moore, DMD, PhD, MPH; Hersh Elliot V., DMD, MS, PhD

When to see a dentist

If you want to permanently kill your tooth nerve and prevent it from ever coming back again, you need to see a dentist. There are only two dental procedures in the world which can get rid of it forever.

  • Root canal. This endodontic procedure will physically remove the nerve from the tooth, thus separating it for good.
  • Tooth extraction. This surgical procedure will physically remove the entire tooth along with its nerve from your jaw.

Both of these methods require mechanical treatment of the tooth nerve. You’re not able to achieve this at home thus, all DIY home remedies will offer temporary relief at best if it works.

Tips on what to do in meantime

The best thing to do is book an appointment with your dentist. However, while you’re waiting to be seen here are some good practices to help minimize your discomfort.

  1. Brush after every meal. Yes, you want to reduce irritants in your mouth like residual foods, acids, and plaque.
  2. Rinse frequently with salt water. This helps to keep your mouth free of debris and also helps to neutralize acids.
  3. Take pain medication. Our recommendation is to take the advil dual action.
  4. Avoid activities which irritate the tooth.

The Verdict

While clove oil can temporarily kill a tooth nerve, it is unlikely to be effective when used as a home remedy. The only time it works well is if you have an exposed nerve where you can directly apply this essential oil to it.

However if your tooth is mostly intact and you’re having some type of pulpitis, the oil from the cloves will not be able to penetrate through the layers of the teeth. This means there will be little to no soothing effect despite its analgesic properties.

The best thing to do is see a dentist if you’re having a toothache. They can stop it quickly by directly treating the nerve.

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