Does Orajel Work?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

Orajel is a legitimate topical local anesthetic so it does work in alleviating tooth pain. It is not some voodoo home remedy where if you use it, your dentist looks at you like you have two heads.

orajel 4x - unopened box

The reason why your dentist doesn’t think you’re crazy is because they actually use the generic version of it. The primary anesthetic agent in Orajel is benzocaine and your dentist has bottles of it littered all over their office. It is the pre-numbing gel that they use to numb your mouth prior to giving you the novocaine injection.

avant benzocaine

If you recall the last time you had a dental filling done, you should’ve had the numbing gel. It probably made your mouth and even your throat numb from it.

That should be more than enough proof for you that this product works but we’ll give you all of the scientific evidence and details just to prove our point. You’ll know more than you ever wanted to know about it by the time you’re done reading this article.

Does orajel really work?

Orajel certainly works in alleviating toothaches because it is a legitimate topical anesthetic that all dental offices use. The only difference is that your dentist uses the generic version of orajel, which is pure 20% benzocaine. Benzocaine is the primary local anesthetic numbing agent in orajel.

Orajel 4x and generic benzocaine

The interesting thing is that Orajel is available over the counter but it actually contains MORE ingredients than generic benzocaine. The generic version of it is only available by prescription and requires a valid medical license. Ultimately you’re actually using a more potent numbing gel at home than your dentist!

Orajel 4x ingredients:

  • Benzocaine 20% – oral pain reliever
  • Menthol 0.26% -pain reliever
  • Zinc chloride 0.15% – oral astringent
  • Benzalkonium chloride 0.13% – antiseptic

Generic benzocaine:

  • Benzocaine 20% – oral pain reliever

Since the numbing effect for orajel is derived from benzocaine, we can look at studies to determine how effective it is. Would it actually numb your tooth?

Studies on its anesthetic efficacy

One study tested the effectiveness of benzocaine on teeth undergoing orthodontic treatment. As we all know, braces can cause the teeth to feel quite a bit of pain whenever the wires get tightened. The research found that use of 20% benzocaine significantly reduced the pain.

Another study tested the numbing efficacy of different concentrations of benzocaine. Some of them were 20% while others were 10%. The results were that all of them were effective in alleviating tooth pain for about 66% of the test subjects. However there were no differences between the differing concentration of benzocaine.

Overall it should be suffice to say that orajel does work in reducing tooth pain.

How does orajel work?

Orajel is a local anesthetic so it will only work in the area where it is applied. For instance if it is applied in the mouth it won’t numb your foot.

Mechanism for how it works:

  • Benzocaine diffuses into the nerve cells and binds to sodium channels.
  • It prevents the opening of the channels, thus blocking the influx of sodium ions.
  • Since sodium ions are unable to diffuse into the cell, it cannot depolarize and therefore cannot generate an action potential.
  • The action potential is what signals to your body that you’re feeling pain.
crest depolarization repolarization
Credit: Crest

Normal process for action potential generation:

  1. Sodium channels open.
  2. Na diffuses into the nerve cell and depolarizes it.
  3. Potassium channels open.
  4. K diffuses out of the nerve cell and repolarizes it.

Since benzocaine prevents the sodium channels from opening, it effectively blocks the action potential generation at step one. If the nerve can’t fire, it means that you won’t feel any pain.

This is somewhat similar to how potassium nitrate, a nerve desensitizer in toothpaste works. Except that for the potassium it interferes with steps 3-4.

How long does it take for orajel to work?

After you apply the orajel to your tooth, it takes less than 60 seconds for it to start working. Therefore it is extremely fast for it begin numbing your tooth and providing you with pain relief.

The first study which tested 20% benzocaine, found that it took effect within 30 seconds of application. Then it continued to produce an numbing effect for the next 5-15 minutes.

The second study that tested benzocaine, found that it began producing a numbing effect within 60 seconds. The entire duration of the anesthetic lasted for about 5-10 minutes.

orajel 4x cream

In conclusion, it should take about a minute for you to start feeling pain relief from using the orajel. Then the anesthetizing effect for orajel should last about 5-20 minutes.

All of the studies tested generic benzocaine but since orajel 4x has three additional ingredients, we extrapolated the data and added an extra 5 minutes to the working time.

You can probably expect it to last for as long as 20 minutes at most before needing to apply more of this topical anesthetic.

Why is orajel not working?

Orajel has been proven to be effective in reducing oral pain. If it is not working, it is most likely because you are trying to use it for a tooth condition that it was never intended to treat.

Alternatively, you could also be using it wrong.

You would understand if you read the drug label on the product. It specifically says “for the temporary relief of pain due to minor irritation or injury of the mouth and gums”. The emphasis is on MINOR.

Orajel label

Orajel was never meant to be used for major dental problems such as a raging toothache that keeps you up at night. The manufacturer even says that if the pain is so severe that it interferes with your daily activities you would need to see a dentist.

orajel advice

Therefore if it is not working for you it may simply be that your tooth condition is too severe for this product to work. It was never intended to be a replacement for serious dental conditions.

Contraindications for benzocaine

Despite the ease of use and accessibility of orajel as an OTC medication, there are certain individuals who should not use it.

  • Children under the age of two. The label on orajel explicitly says that children below the age of 2 should NOT use it. There is a risk of methemoglobinemia, which is a medical emergency. However they do have a product for children that does not contain benzocaine, which is safe for them to use called orajel baby.
  • Possibly pregnant women. It is a pregnancy category C drug, which states that it can be used if the benefits outweigh the risks. According to the ACOG, it is safe to receive dental care which is superior to using a home remedy. If you’re having pain we recommend just going in to see your dentist
Orajel drug facts - usage and warnings


Orajel has been proven to work since it is similar to the same numbing gel that your dentist uses prior to giving you novocaine. In fact, it is more potent than the one they use since it contains more ingredients!

If it is not relieving your toothache as you are expecting, it may be that the condition is too severe for it to treat. After all, it was only meant to be for the temporary relief of minor dental problems.

For all severe toothaches, there is simply no other way than to see your dentist.


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