John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

Benzocaine vs. Clove oil – On two approaches to tooth pain

April 10th, 2010


Obviously, a toothache is first and foremost an indication that one needs to get to the dentist – but whether for financial or temporal limitations, sometimes we have to sit around for a while waiting for a chance to see the real medical professionals.  That said, the time frame between the onset of symptoms and treatment is an incredibly miserable period.  There’s something unique about tooth pain that makes concentration and relaxation almost impossible!

Anyway, this throbbing upper molar had been driving me nuts for a few days now and its probably going to be a while until I can scrap together enough cash to cover the uninsured costs of major dental surgery.  I’m just kind of assuming the issue will be expensive because the tooth in question already had a filling put in it once and this pain is much, much worse.

Benzocaine Marketing

Now obviously, if you think about something to temporarily fix a toothache you’re probably thinking of Orajel or one of the many similar products with a big marketing budget.  That’s sort of why they spent so much on advertising in the first place!

But I don’t like to go with the flow unless I know exactly what I’m getting in to.  So I had to do a bit of research to figure out exactly what the active ingredient was doing.

Unfortunately, benzocaine is one of the chemicals tied to a condition called methemoglobinemia:  the excessive presence of methemoglobin in the blood stream.  Unfortunately, methemoglobin won’t bind to oxygen and tissue starts to die from hypoxia.  Unfortunately again:  the 20% concentration of most oral pain killers is plenty to get in to your blood stream and trigger production of methemoglobin.  That might not even be the worst of it, because it suppresses the gag reflex and can lead on to fluids in the lungs.  It is considered particularly dangerous to use benzocaine, drink something, and go to bed.

So what, my tooth still hurts!

Now now… I haven’t forgotten about that horrific tooth pain, I just wanted to figure out if the common solution was the best solution or just the one with the biggest advertising budget.

There are other choices available with much less risk, you just have to look around a bit.

This is where clove oil comes in.  The oil of cloves has been used for thousands of years in various medical situations and still occasionally in dentistry because it is extremely effective in killing pain, and has an added bonus of killing off infections. Yup, it is both an analgesic and an antiseptic, and the lethal dose would probably be about an ounce of pure stuff swallowed in a short period of time. Sure, its potent enough to be dangerous in extremely large quantities, but there really are no known side effects at the effective dose (other than the rare instance of allergy that can pop up with almost any medication or food.)

Yeah, does it work?

Well, I’m writing again, aren’t I?

I managed to find some clove oil at the local CVS, and once applied to a bit of cotton and placed on the painful tooth, the stabbing sensation seemed to vanish immediately.  The taste is extremely strong and bitter, but almost in a pleasant way.  Remember, cloves are primarily used in cooking:  either as a potent spice or as the primary component in what we westerners like to call chai tea.

The pain didn’t come back before I went to bed a few hours later.  I slept very well, and to my own amazement there wasn’t even any pain when I woke up.  12 hours after the first dose, there wasn’t the slightest hint of the tooth ache that had been driving me insane.

Perhaps most comforting of all, is that the swelling in my gums near the affected tooth is drastically reduced.  Now I’m starting to wonder if it was a cavity at all, or if it was really some kind of gum infection that the antiseptic properties of cloves can actually cure.

Either way, I’m saving up for that trip to the dentist.  You know, just in case!




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