There's no mistaking the pungent, aromatic smell of clove oils in food — but this spice also yields the most popular of essential oils for toothache, with a long history of use in folk medicine and a not-insubstantial body of scientific research to boot. But depending on the cause of your tooth pain, you might find some relief from other essential oils too.
Clove Oil Works for Tooth Pain
While clove oil's long history in folk medicine might be enough for you to try it on a toothache, there's a strong body of scientific evidence behind its efficacy too. In fact, clove oil's effectiveness as a dental painkiller is so well-accepted that scientists have generally turned their attention to other ways it might be useful.
One of the most recent studies regarding clove oil for dental uses was published in the Journal of Dentistry in 2006; this head-to-head comparison of homemade clove gel, benzocaine gel and a pair of placebo products showed that both the clove and benzocaine gels produced significantly lower pain scores than the placebos. The authors concluded that clove gel might have the potential to replace benzocaine as a topical pain relief agent.
A good example of more recent studies was published in the Libyan Journal of Medicine in 2015. There, scientists used several methodologies to show that clove oil is a more effective painkiller in mice than injected aspirin and almost as effective as morphine in some circumstances.
Clove Oil Is Also Antimicrobial
There's another way clove oil can help your teeth — or perhaps more important, your gum line: It also demonstrates strong antimicrobial properties. In a 2019 study published in the journal Food Chemistry, scientists found that clove essential oil demonstrated strong antimicrobial activity, regardless of whether it was administered in capsules or without capsules.
Clove oil may also be useful for wound healing. In a 2017 study published in the journal Artificial Cells, Nanomedicine and Biotechnology, researchers found that a nanoemulsion of clove oil showed significant wound healing effects in rats.
Both of these properties — antimicrobial effects and improved wound healing — are useful in treating oral complaints.
Why Clove Oil Works So Well
According to an analysis from North Carolina State University, essential oils from the buds of a cultivated Turkish varietal of cloves contains 87 percent eugenol. This potent, aromatic substance is credited with driving clove oil's natural anesthetic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
How to Use Clove Oil for Dental Health
It's important to note that clove essential oil — and any other remedy — isn't a substitute for appropriate dental hygiene. So for the sarcastic set, it might be tempting to say that the best use of cloves for dental health is spelling out the words "Please brush and floss daily" on a sign in your bathroom.
But, tongue-in-cheek humor aside, clove oil does have a number of uses for your oral health. A daily oral rinse or mouthwash of clove oil may help prevent cavities and generally improve your dental health, even fighting gingivitis, thanks to its antimicrobial and wound-healing activities.
Meanwhile, if you have a sharp toothache, the usual advice for clove oil is to place a couple of drops of it on a cotton ball and place this next to the affected tooth.
Here's another heads-up: Just because the tooth pain goes away doesn't mean that its cause is resolved. So although clove oil is a good stopgap until you can get to the dentist for that toothache, it's not a replacement for seeing a dentist, whether to address your emergency pain or to prevent other tooth problems from developing in the future.
Other Essential Oils for Tooth Pain
What if you don't have clove oil handy or can't tolerate it because of an allergy or sensitivity? Other popular remedies for toothache include tea tree oil and peppermint oil — but be aware: These oils don't have the same body of evidence to show their efficacy that clove oil does.
If you use peppermint or tea tree oil for a toothache, what they do have going for them is proven antimicrobial activity. For example, tea tree oil's antimicrobial activity was demonstrated in a 2019 study published in the journal Current Microbiology, and the efficacy of steam-distilled peppermint herbal water — whose main component is menthol — was demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Oleo Science. So if your tooth pain is being caused by microbial activity, it's possible that they may provide some relief.
Although less well-known, it's possible that copaiba essential oil might also provide antimicrobial benefits against oral pathogens. A 2018 systematic review published in the journal Phytotherapy Research showed that this essential oil does indeed produce in vitro antibacterial activity.
A Few Things to Know About Essential Oils
Before you run out for a bottle of clove, peppermint, tea tree or copaiba essential oil, there are a few things you should know about essential oils in general.
The first is that not all essential oils are pure, so always check the label carefully. If you see words like "carrier oil" or "blend," or any percentage other than 100 percent on the label, then you're not looking at the pure product. If you find yourself using a diluted 5 percent solution of clove oil for your toothache, you're going to get very different results than you'd have from the pure oil.
Next, be warned that fragrance oils are not the same as essential oils. The label "fragrance" is almost always applied to synthetically sourced scent oils, which haven't been shown to have the same medicinal qualities as true essential oils. So make sure you're looking at clove (or peppermint or tea tree or ... ) essential oils, as opposed to clove fragrance oils.
Finally, a little bit goes a long way. If you're used to diluted oils or synthetic fragrances or if you're just in a lot of pain, it might be tempting to really douse that cotton ball in clove oil. But a couple of drops, at most, is all you should need.
Beware Allergic Reactions
Although certain essential oils do demonstrate strong healing properties, they might also produce allergic reactions. A 2016 review published in the journal Dermatitis noted that nearly 80 essential oils have caused contact allergies. Both clove oil and tea tree oil produced more than 2 percent positive patch test reactions, usually because they were pure oils or high-concentration products.
Don't use tea tree oil as a remedy for a child's tooth pain. Tea tree oil is poisonous when swallowed and should only be used as a remedy by adults who know to spit the oil out after use.
- Arcadia University: Cloves: Not Only a Spice but an Oral Pain Reliever
- The Clinical Advisor: Cloves Effective for Treating Oral Cavity Pain
- North Carolina State University: Chemical Composition and Content of Essential Oil
- Libyan Journal of Medicine: Experimental Evaluation of Anti-Inflammatory, Antinociceptive and Antipyretic Activities of Clove Oil in Mice
- Current Microbiology: In Vitro Antimicrobial Activities of Commercially Available Tea Tree Essential Oils
- Journal of Oleo Science: Utilization of the Japanese Peppermint Herbal Water Byproduct of Steam Distillation as an Antimicrobial Agent
- Phytotherapy Research: Antimicrobial Activity of Copaiba Oil on Oral Pathogens
- Journal of Dentistry: The Effect of Clove and Benzocaine Versus Placebo as Topical Anesthetics
- Food Chemistry: Antimicrobial and Antioxidant Activity of Unencapsulated and Encapsulated Clove (Syzygium aromaticum, L.) Essential Oil
- Artificial Cells, Nanomedicine, and Biotechnology: Wound Healing Effects of Nanoemulsion Containing Clove Essential Oil
- Dermatitis: Essential Oils, Part IV: Contact Allergy