Gum & Tooth Abscess Home Remedies: What Works & What Doesn’t

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

A dental abscess can cause excruciating tooth pain. While your dentist is the only one who can fix an abscess, several home remedies can offer fast, short-term pain relief.

Do not wait to seek treatment if you believe you have an abscess in your teeth or gums. Complications of abscessed teeth or gums can be life-threatening.

You cannot get rid of a tooth abscess or a gum abscess on your own. Home remedies are intended to offer short-term relief while you’re waiting on a dental appointment.

Each toothache home remedy below will list the abscess(es) for which it can relieve pain. Scientific evidence tells us that not all home remedies will work for both kinds of dental abscess — what works for an abscessed tooth may not help for an abscess in the gums.

The most effective home and/or natural remedies for dental abscess are:

  1. Over-the-counter pain relievers (gum & tooth abscess)
  2. Acupressure/acupuncture (gum & tooth abscess)
  3. Tea bags (gum & tooth abscess)
  4. Benzocaine (gum & tooth abscess)
  5. Essential oils (gum & tooth abscess)
  6. Cold compress (tooth abscess)
  7. Wedge pillow (tooth abscess)
  8. Saltwater rinse (gum abscess)
  9. Baking soda (gum abscess)
  10. Oil pulling (gum abscess)
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1. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Ibuprofen is the most effective over-the-counter painkiller for dental abscess pain. 

I recommend the 3-3-3 method for using over-the-counter ibuprofen to relieve dental pain:

  • Take 3 ibuprofen
  • 3 times each day
  • For 3 days

This is more than the recommended dose, so you should speak with your dentist before taking this dose of ibuprofen.

Other anti-inflammatory over-the-counter painkillers sometimes used for dental pain include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin.

Effective for: Gum abscess and tooth abscess

2. Acupressure/Acupuncture

Acupressure or acupuncture may relieve gum or tooth abscess pain. Clinical trials show that these toothache remedies can:

  • Reduce nerve pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce toothache pain
  • Numb painful areas similar to an anesthetic
  • Improve tooth pain threshold
  • Relieve TMJ pain (which can be caused by a tooth abscess)

You can try acupressure for toothaches at home, but always get acupuncture treatment from a certified acupuncturist.

Effective for: Gum abscess and tooth abscess

3. Tea Bags

Wet tea bags of calming and antibacterial teas such as chamomile and peppermint tea may relieve toothache pain. The eugenol in peppermint tea has pain relieving qualities.

To use tea bags for dental abscess pain, hold a wet tea bag to the affected tooth or area of your gums.

Some sources recommend putting the teabag in the freezer for 15-20 minutes before applying for added relief.

Effective for: Gum abscess and tooth abscess

4. Benzocaine

Benzocaine gel is used as a topical anesthetic to relieve tooth and gum pain fast. 20% benzocaine gel numbs the affected area temporarily and should be reapplied every 2 hours.

The most common over-the-counter brands of benzocaine are Orajel and Anbesol

Never use benzocaine gel in children under 2. 

Effective for: Gum abscess and tooth abscess

5. Essential Oils

Clove oil may offer short-term pain relief for gum and tooth abscess pain. 

Clinical trials show clove oil may be just as effective as benzocaine for toothache relief. Clove oil may help relieve pain from an infected tooth most effectively if the tooth decay has exposed the nerve inside the tooth.

Essential oils used for pain caused by gum abscess include:

  • Clove oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Thyme oil

A word of caution: Essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before use to avoid causing chemical burns to the surrounding tissues of your mouth.

To use essential oils for your dental pain:

  1. Use equal parts of the oil to carrier oil.
  2. Using a cotton ball or cotton swab, hold your mixture onto the infected/inflamed area around your tooth infection for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Wait 10-15 minutes, then gently rinse (preferably, with saltwater).

Effective for: Gum abscess and tooth abscess (clove oil is the only essential oil effective for tooth abscess)

6. Cold Compress

A cold compress held to the outside of the face may help relieve inflammation and swelling caused by a tooth abscess. Hold a cold compress to the area of pain for up to 20 minutes at a time.

Be sure to use a barrier, such as a dishtowel, between your skin and the compress to avoid irritation of your skin.

Effective for: Tooth abscess

7. Wedge Pillow

Tooth abscess pain tends to get worse when you lie down, known as “positional pain”. Sleeping on a wedge pillow to elevate your head can reduce the pain you feel and even help you sleep better. 

Use a wedge pillow like this one until you’re able to get to the dentist and for the 1-2 days after your extraction or root canal.

This elevation helps to relieve the pressure caused by the infection.

Effective for: Tooth abscess

8. Saltwater Rinse

A saltwater rinse, 4-5 times a day, can soothe some pain associated with a gum abscess. Saltwater has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes wound healing.

To make a supersaturated saltwater rinse for dental abscess pain:

  1. Start with a glass of warm salt water — not boiling
  2. Add a tablespoon of Himalayan pink salt at a time while stirring.
  3. Stop adding salt once some crystals won’t dissolve and sink to the bottom.
  4. Gently swish the rinse in your mouth.
  5. Repeat 4-5 times each day for effective pain relief.

Effective for: Gum abscess 

9. Baking Soda

A baking soda rinse has mild antibacterial properties and may soothe gum pain caused by an abscess. Baking soda in the mouth will also support a more alkaline pH of saliva. 

Rinsing with baking soda may be most useful for abscess pain in conjunction with other home remedies.

For an effective rinse:

  1. Start with baking soda and warm water at a 1:1 ratio.
  2. Add Himalayan pink salt and mix until dissolved.
  3. Swish for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Repeat 3-5 times a day.

Effective for: Gum abscess

10. Oil Pulling

Oil pulling can reduce inflammation and reduce plaque under painful, bleeding gums. This may help to relieve some pain from a gum abscess.

To oil pull:

  1. Use one teaspoon of unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil.
  2. Swish the coconut oil in your mouth for 1-3 minutes.
  3. Spit the oil into a trash can, not a sink. Coconut oil can harden and clog pipes.

You may also use sesame oil or olive oil to oil pull. Sesame and olive oil are not as beneficial for reducing inflammation of gum tissue.

Effective for: Gum abscess

Remedies to Avoid

Many online sources claim that certain remedies can offer pain relief for an abscess that are not supported by scientific evidence. Others will claim that certain remedies can relieve pain caused by a tooth abscess or gum abscess that can do nothing to address that specific pain.

Avoid these tooth abscess home remedies:

  • Garlic: Functional practitioners may recommend creating a garlic paste by crushing garlic on the area of pain. However, garlic has not been studied in conjunction with toothache pain. In addition, there are several reports of chemical burns resulting from garlic paste for toothache.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t belong in your mouth, and it won’t help with abscess pain. Exposing your sensitive gum tissue to hydrogen peroxide may increase your risk for oral cancer and disrupt your oral microbiome.
  • Aspirin on the affected tooth: Never, ever hold aspirin to a painful tooth in your mouth. This old wives’ tale will not only fail to relieve toothache pain, but it will cause painful damage to your oral mucosa that will put you in far more pain than you started with.
  • Vanilla extract: Vanilla extract is commonly used to relieve tooth pain, probably because it’s high in ethanol. But no scientific evidence supports this claim.
  • Alcohol: Rubbing alcohol and whiskey are folkloric toothache remedies. Neither of them works to relieve tooth or periodontal abscess pain.

Gum Abscess vs. Tooth Abscess

An abscess is a pocket of pus that develops due to an extensive bacterial infection. Your dentist will use x-rays, physical examination, and a description of your pain and other symptoms to diagnose which kind of abscess you have.

There are 3 types of dental abscesses:

  1. Periapical/tooth abscess: Abscess formed at the tip of a tooth root as a result of deep cavities/tooth decay or trauma; sometimes called an “endodontic abscess”.
  2. Gum/periodontal abscess: Abscess in the gums; often caused by gum disease. May lead to bone loss.
  3. Combined abscess: Abscesses at the tooth root and in the gums will sometimes join to form a “combined periodontal-endodontic abscess”.

It’s difficult to tell the difference between the types of abscess yourself. But there are a few ways to determine the difference.

Periapical abscesses tend to cause:

  • Deep, aching pain that refers up and down on the same side of your mouth and jaw
  • Positional pain that’s worse when you lay down
  • Extreme sensitivity to hot and cold (this may go away once the pulp of the tooth has died)

Periodontal abscesses tend to cause:

  • A boil on the gums that may get larger or smaller
  • Itching and inflammation around the abscess
  • Bad taste in the mouth (along with bad breath)
  • Popping or draining of the abscess
  • No positional pain, referred pain, or hot/cold sensitivity

What relieves pain for a gum abscess may not relieve tooth abscess pain, and vice versa.

When to See a Dentist

Dental abscesses are considered dental emergencies. In fact, 63% of inpatient hospital stays for dental problems are due to gum or tooth abscess.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your dentist right away:

  • Throbbing pain in your teeth or gums
  • Severe dental pain that lasts more than 2 days
  • Pain in your teeth or gums that interferes with normal activities, like talking, eating, or sleeping
  • Positional pain that is worse when you lay down
  • Referring pain from a tooth that radiates to your jaw, other parts of your mouth, or your sinuses
  • A bad taste in your mouth or very bad breath that occurs with tooth pain

If you have a compromised immune system, call your dentist right away if you experience severe tooth pain.

Tooth and periodontal abscess cannot be reversed without the help of a dentist. 

For a tooth abscess, your dentist will need to either perform root canal treatment or a tooth extraction followed by a dental implant.

For a periodontal abscess, your dentist will incise and drain the abscess. It may need to be removed with gum surgery. Keep in mind, a gum abscess is generally associated with gum disease. You’ll need to address periodontal disease for effective relief, not just repair the abscess.

How to Prevent Dental Abscesses

Preventing dental abscesses involves good dental care and oral hygiene. To prevent tooth and periodontal abscesses:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice every day with a remineralizing toothpaste like RiseWell to support remineralization and prevent cavities.
  • Use an electric toothbrush if you can. Sonic toothbrushes are best for gum disease.
  • Floss every day. Flossing with a piece of knotted floss can dislodge food from between teeth that could otherwise lead to concentrated areas of bacteria.
  • Don’t skip dental checkups. These 6-month teeth cleanings are important for removing plaque and tartar buildup as well as spotting tooth decay or signs of gum disease before they lead to an abscess. If you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease, be sure to keep up with your quarterly scaling & root planing appointments.

10 References

  1. Bailey, E., Worthington, H. V., van Wijk, A., Yates, J. M., Coulthard, P., & Afzal, Z. (2013). Ibuprofen and/or paracetamol (acetaminophen) for pain relief after surgical removal of lower wisdom teeth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (12). Full text: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004624.pub2/full
  2. Naik, P. N., Kiran, R. A., Yalamanchal, S., Kumar, V. A., Goli, S., & Vashist, N. (2014). Acupuncture: an alternative therapy in dentistry and its possible applications. Medical acupuncture, 26(6), 308-314. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270142/
  3. Singh, R., Shushni, M. A., & Belkheir, A. (2015). Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of Mentha piperita L. Arabian Journal of Chemistry, 8(3), 322-328. Full text: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878535211000232
  4. Hersh, E. V., Ciancio, S. G., Kuperstein, A. S., Stoopler, E. T., Moore, P. A., Boynes, S. G., … & Shibly, O. (2013). An evaluation of 10 percent and 20 percent benzocaine gels in patients with acute toothaches: efficacy, tolerability and compliance with label dose administration directions. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 144(5), 517-526. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3844156/
  5. Alqareer, A., Alyahya, A., & Andersson, L. (2006). The effect of clove and benzocaine versus placebo as topical anesthetics. Journal of dentistry, 34(10), 747-750. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16530911/
  6. Farooq, L., Ahmed, M. R., Khan, M. A., Mahmood, A., Khan, Z., Khurram, S., & Farzand, M. (2020). Evaluation of Salivary pH Changes with Probiotic, Baking Soda and Mineral Water Rinse Among Individuals with Low Caries Experience. American International Journal of Multidisciplinary Scientific Research, 6(2), 1-5. Abstract: https://www.cribfb.com/journal/index.php/aijmsr/article/view/594
  7. Kandaswamy, S. K., Sharath, A., & Priya, P. G. (2018). Comparison of the effectiveness of probiotic, chlorhexidine-based mouthwashes, and oil pulling therapy on plaque accumulation and gingival inflammation in 10-to 12-year-old schoolchildren: A randomized controlled trial. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry, 11(2), 66. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6034046/
  8. Vargo, R. J., Warner, B. M., Potluri, A., & Prasad, J. L. (2017). Garlic burn of the oral mucosa: A case report and review of self-treatment chemical burns. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 148(10), 767-771. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28390650/
  9. Arcury, T. A., Bell, R. A., Anderson, A. M., Chen, H., Savoca, M. R., Kohrman, T., & Quandt, S. A. (2009). Oral health self‐care behaviors of rural older adults. Journal of public health dentistry, 69(3), 182-189. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2784128/
  10. Barron, C., & Soverino, T. (2018). Put a frog in your mouth: toothache ‘cures’ from Nineteenth-and Twentieth-century Ireland. Journal of the history of dentistry, 66(6), 14-24. Full text: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5d27/097b87e4acde7e02ff5c26a81b09520a0c08.pdf