Over-the-Counter Medicine for Toothache Pain

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A toothache really needs to be checked out by a dentist, but you may need some pain relief before you can be seen. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can help you manage tooth pain in the meantime.

Dentists recommend a few options when it comes to medicine for pain in your teeth. These options include:

But not all of these drugs are right for everyone. This article reviews OTC painkiller options, side effects and drug interactions to consider, and other ways you may be able to manage your toothache.

A young Black man clutches the side of his face due to tooth pain.

AaronAmat / Getty Images

Causes of Tooth Pain

Several possible causes of tooth pain include:

While you may be able to manage dental pain at home, you should always call your dentist as soon as possible to be treated and prevent potential complications.

What to Consider

To find the right pain reliever to ease your tooth pain, it helps to understand how these medications work to manage pain. But first, you need to know whether they're safe for you.

Here are some things to consider when choosing an OTC pain reliever:

Health Conditions

Some medical conditions (e.g., digestive problems, kidney or liver disease) make certain pain medications unsafe. The same goes for pregnancy. Ask your healthcare provider what's safe for you.

Side Effects

The fact that these drugs are widely used and easily accessible doesn't mean using them is risk-free.

Some potential side effects of short-term use are outlined for each of the OTC drug options covered here. Think twice about those drugs that pose concerns that may be especially problematic for you.

Drug Interactions

Some pain relievers may not be safe to take with other medications you may be on.

Drugs that may be unsafe to mix with OTC pain relievers include:

These are just a few of the many possible drugs that may be dangerous to combine with pain relievers. Ask your dentist, healthcare provider, or pharmacist what OTC products are safe for you.

Potential for Overdose

If you take a pain reliever with an active ingredient that is also in another medication you are taking (like a multi-symptom cold medicine), you run the risk of overdosing, which can have harmful side effects.

Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is one of the most-used OTC painkillers for tooth pain. It's sold under the popular brand names:

  • Advil
  • Motrin
  • Nuprin

These medicines are available in tablets, liquid gel capsules, and oral suspensions.

Ibuprofen is classified as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It works well for dental pain because it relieves pain and lowers inflammation—a cause of many mouth-related aches and pains.

Side Effects

Common side effects of ibuprofen include:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Gas or bloating
  • Dizziness
  • Nervousness

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you experience serious side effects such as:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the abdomen, lower legs, ankles, or feet
  • Fever
  • Blisters, hives, or a rash
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, throat, arms, or hands
  • Difficulty swallowing

Naproxen

Naproxen is another NSAID frequently used for tooth pain. It comes in tablets, caplets, gelcaps, and liquid gels.

Brand names include:

  • Aleve
  • Anaprox
  • Naprosyn

To give a sense of how effective the drug can be, research suggests naproxen may be as effective for post-surgical dental pain as the narcotic pain reliever Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen).

While naproxen and ibuprofen are in the same drug class, one may work better for you than the other.

Side Effects

Common side effects of naproxen may be:

  • Upset stomach and nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Gas, bloating
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness

Call your healthcare provider right away if you experience:

  • Changes in vision
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or lips
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • Changes in mental health or mood
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the abdomen, legs, ankles, or feet
  • Signs of infection (fever, chills, sore throat)
  • Blisters, hives, rash, or red skin
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, tongue, throat, arms, or hands
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Severe nausea or vomiting

Dosage instructions on naproxen are different from most OTC pain medications. That's because it continues working for longer.

Aspirin

An older pain reliever, aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is also in the NSAID class. Studies suggest it's effective for pain from dental problems.

Aspirin comes in many forms, such as chewable tablets, delayed-release and extended-release tablets, and suppositories.

This medication is sold under dozens of brand names. Common ones include:

  • Anacin
  • Bayer
  • Bufferin
  • Empirin
  • Excedrin

Don't Directly Apply Aspirin

An old folk remedy suggests that placing aspirin on a tooth relieves pain. This is not only false, it can further damage your teeth. Swallow the pills as directed.

Side Effects

Aspirin can cause digestive side effects in some people. Watch for:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you develop:

  • Hives or rash
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue or throat
  • Wheezing, labored, or rapid breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or loss of hearing
  • Vomit that's bloody or looks like coffee grounds
  • Bright red blood in stools or black, tarry stools

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is a popular way to manage dental pain. However, it doesn't reduce inflammation like NSAIDs, so it may not be as effective for tooth pain.

Acetaminophen is available under the brand names:

  • Tylenol
  • Actamin
  • Feverall

Acetaminophen is especially useful if you can't take NSAIDs. It is available in several forms that may work for toothache medicine, including:

  • Tablets
  • Liquid gel capsules
  • Oral suspension

Side Effects

Acetaminophen can cause side effects. Common ones include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation

Large doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Alcohol also damages the liver, so you should avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medication.

If any of these serious side effects occur, call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Red, blistering, or peeling skin
  • Rash or hives
  • Itching
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue, throat, hands, lower legs, ankles, or feet
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing

Use As Directed

Any OTC pain medication you take for a toothache is meant for short-term relief until you can get your dental issue fixed. These drugs aren't meant to help you manage pain long-term so you can avoid going to the dentist.

While your pain may be severe, using more of these drugs than directed can be dangerous. For example, taking too much acetaminophen over a short period can lead to liver failure, which can be fatal.

And excessive or long-term use of NSAIDs can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. It can also irritate or damage your stomach, intestine, kidneys, or liver.

Always follow the dosage instructions on the packing or given to you by a healthcare provider.

Other Pain Relief Options

You have other options for relieving tooth pain until you can see your dentist. You can use these along with or instead of OTC pain relievers.

  • Avoid very cold or hot foods and drinks, as well as those that have a lot of sugar or acid (such as orange juice).
  • Floss around the affected teeth to remove any food particles that may be irritating them.
  • Elevate your head while you sleep. This can relieve some pressure that may add to your pain.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater.
  • For some types of toothaches, you may get relief from applying clove oil.

Summary

Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are NSAID pain relievers. Because they help reduce inflammation, they're common choices for dental pain. Acetaminophen may also help with your toothache, but it doesn't lower inflammation.

Watch for side effects with OTC pain relievers, some of which can serious—especially if you take more than the recommended dose. Make sure you're not taking drugs that could badly interact with each other.

Your dentist, healthcare provider, or pharmacist can help you choose the best one for you.

A Word From Verywell

Dental pain can be intense and doesn't always come on during your dentist's regular hours. If that happens, give your dentist's office a call. They may have an on-call or emergency number on their voicemail recording.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Cooper SA, Desjardins PJ, Bertoch T, et al. Analgesic efficacy of naproxen sodium versus hydrocodone/acetaminophen in acute postsurgical dental pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial [published online ahead of print, 2021 Dec 8]. Postgrad Med. 2021;1-8. doi:10.1080/00325481.2021.2008180

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  6. Zhang J, Du Y, Wei Z, Tai B, Jiang H, Du M. The prevalence and risk indicators of tooth wear in 12- and 15-year-old adolescents in Central ChinaBMC Oral Health. 2015;15(1):120. Published 2015 Oct 9. doi:10.1186/s12903-015-0104-9

  7. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Aspirin.

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  10. Yoon E, Babar A, Choudhary M, Kutner M, Pyrsopoulos N. Acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity: a comprehensive updateJ Clin Transl Hepatol. 2016;4(2):131-142. doi:10.14218/JCTH.2015.00052

Additional Reading
  • National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Ibuprofen.

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.