Which Medications Can Kill a Tooth Nerve?

Written & Reviewed by Dr David Chen

When it comes to a toothache, there are many medicines which you can use but do you know which ones are effective at killing the tooth nerve?

We will review the most commonly used ones and how they work. Then we’ll give you our assessment on their efficacy so we can decide which medication is the strongest one.

Topical anesthetics

Topical anesthetics are analgesics that come in the form of creams, gels, or liquids, which get applied to the external surface of the tooth. They exert their numbing effect via external means which is why they’re known as topicals.

orajel 4x cream

Examples of topical medications for toothaches:


While topical analgesics are legitimate anesthetic medications, they may have difficulty killing your tooth nerve. The reason is because since it works topically, so it may have trouble penetrating through the tooth to be able to reach the pulp.

If it can’t even reach the nerve of the tooth, it won’t be able to exert its numbing effect on it. Evidence of this is the fact that your tooth is impervious to creams, gels, and liquids.

When you drink water do you feel the water go through your tooth or go around it? Well, what makes you think applying a gel on your tooth would be any different?

Systemic painkillers

Systemic painkillers are any type of pain medication that will exert its analgesic effect systemically. This means that it will travel through the bloodstream to reach the tooth nerve, which is in stark contrast to topical pain medication.

acetaminophen and ibuprofen

Examples of systemic medications for toothaches:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Aspirin

Essentially, these are all painkillers that you ingest either in pill form or liquid form. Then it gets absorbed and travels through your blood to reach the affected tooth.


Systemic pain relieving medications are effective in killing the tooth nerve but only temporarily.

They work because they are able to bypass the protective external layers of the tooth (enamel and dentin) by traveling through the bloodstream. Those layers are impervious to all forms of external stimuli!

However, the pain relief will only be temporary because the effect of this painkiller will wear off in about 6-8 hours depending on the medicine. For permanent pain relief, you must treat the source of the aching tooth and that requires seeing a dentist.


Tooth pain caused by an infection will often benefit from a round of antibiotics. Taking it can help reduce the bacterial load and kill off the abscess in your mouth.

Antibiotic Amoxicillin

Examples of antibiotics used for toothaches:

  • Amoxicillin
  • Augment (amoxicillin with clavulanic acid)
  • Cephalexin
  • Erythromycin
  • Clindamycin
  • Doxycycline


While antibiotics may be prescribed adjunctively with pain medication, it does not directly relieve tooth pain. In other words, it won’t be able to kill your tooth nerve.

An antibiotic is an antibacterial medication and is NOT a pain reliever. For that reason alone, it does not possess any analgesic properties.

However, most people often feel better after taking the antibiotics. The reason for that is due to the infection clearing out. The pain relief from taking this drug is indirect rather than direct.


Using a mouth rinse can be beneficial in keeping the oral cavity clean and reducing inflammation. The prescription based rinses can even kill bacteria.

They work by bathing the teeth and gums in a liquid solution. Typically a certain amount of rinsing time is required for it to exert its full effect.

Examples of mouthwashes:

  • Chlorhexidine (prescription rinse)
  • Listerine
  • Salt water rinse
Chlorhexidine gluconate mouth rinse


Unfortunately, mouthwashes cannot kill a tooth nerve because it isn’t potent enough to do so nor is it even an analgesic.

  • Listerine is a great antiseptic but it does not relieve pain.
  • Even chlorhexidine which can kill bacteria, does not kill your tooth pain nerve. It only affects the bacteria.
  • Rinsing with salt water is the most gHome remediesentle thing that you can do. It certainly won’t harm the pulp of your tooth.

Ultimately, another major reason as to why they don’t work so well is similar to why the topical anesthetics don’t work. Both of them are used topically so they get applied to the teeth externally. Unfortunately the layers of dentin and enamel and fairly impervious to external stimuli.

Home remedies

Home remedies are commonly used whenever the tooth pain nerve acts up and people are unable to make it to the dentist. They will seek out these alternative means in order to get some relief.

NOW - clove oil

Examples of toothache home remedies:

  • Essential oils: Basil, oregano, tea tree, clove, etc
  • Willow bark
  • Toothache plant
  • Tea bags: peppermint, green tea
  • Hydrogen peroxide


Unfortunately home remedies cannot kill your tooth nerve and there are 3 major reasons as to why they don’t work.

  • They’re NOT an analgesic.
  • They’re unable to penetrate through the tooth to affect the tooth nerve.
  • They can be outright dangerous.

We did not list any of the dangerous home remedies because we don’t want you trying them. The worse ones would be brake fluid, gasoline, and bleach. Can you believe that people actually attempt those?!


Out of all of the medicines listed above, the most effective one for killing a tooth nerve would be taking systemic painkillers. They’re able to help you temporarily relieve your toothache because they work systemically. But please note that these all take time to work and can’t relieve your toothache instantly.

MedicineAnalgesicKills tooth nerve
Topical anestheticsYesNo
Systemic painkillersYesYes
Home remediesMaybeNo

Most of the medicines above and home remedies all exert their effect topically. That is a problem because your tooth has a thick layer of enamel and dentin which protects and insulates it from all external stimuli.

The only one that will work will be taking pain medication! In case you were curious, in the best pain reliever for a toothache is actually advil dual action. It uses a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.


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A lot of nuances cannot be detected without an in-person clinical exam, which means it is near impossible to diagnose and treat virtually.

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