Over-the-Counter Pain Relief Medication for Dental Use

Your tooth hurts but you can't get in to see the dentist right away. What can you do? One of the ways to find temporary relief is to use an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever.

There are a few options that dentists recommend which are the most effective. However, there are also precautions that you need to take into account before you head to the drug store.

Man with toothache at home
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Common Causes of Tooth Pain

Over-the-counter pain relief medication is used in dentistry to manage pain from a number of dental problems:

Choosing the Right OTC Pain Reliever

Selecting an over-the-counter pain medication that is right for you involves understanding how each type manages pain. More importantly, you need to know whether or not they are safe for you

Taking certain pain medications with some medical conditions can cause serious problems. Also, if you are taking any prescription medications, you need to be aware of possible drug interactions.

It's best that you speak with your doctor, dentist, or pharmacist before taking any OTC pain relievers. Of equal importance is to follow the dosage recommendations on the label. Even though these medications are available without a prescription, they can cause serious side effects and it is possible to overdose.

Also, they should not be taken for an extended period of time. It's best to call your dentist about tooth pain as soon as possible.


The most popular over-the-counter pain relief medication used in dentistry is ibuprofen. Popular brand names include Motrin and Advil and it is available in tablets, liquid gel capsules, and oral suspension formulations.

Ibuprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), works very well for dental pain because it reduces inflammation, which is common in most dental-related aches and pains.

People taking certain medications should not use ibuprofen. This includes aspirin, ACE inhibitors, blood thinners, Lasix (furosemide), corticosteroids, lithium, and methotrexate. 

With prolonged use of ibuprofen, you can irritate or damage your stomach, kidneys, and liver. There is a cardiovascular risk associated with it as well.


Tylenol is the most common brand of acetaminophen. This is another popular OTC medication used to manage dental pain, especially for people that are unable to take ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is available in tablets, liquid gel capsules, and oral suspension formulations.

Acetaminophen is an analgesic and does not have anti-inflammatory properties. It is also found in a number of other medications. Be sure to discuss taking it with your doctor or pharmacist so you do not exceed the recommended daily dose or experience drug interactions.

In large doses, acetaminophen may lead to liver damage. You also should not drink alcohol while taking this pain reliever as the combination can cause liver damage.

Do Not Place Aspirin on Your Tooth

Call it an old wive's tale or folk remedy, but there's a common myth that placing aspirin on a tooth relieves pain. This is not true and can further damage your teeth. Swallow the pill as directed and the pain will subside soon.

Other Pain Relief Methods

As an alternative to pain medication, you can try a few other things to find temporary relief:

  • Avoid very cold or hot foods and drinks as well as those that have a lot of sugar or acid.
  • Floss between the teeth that are causing pain to remove any food particles that may be adding to the pain.
  • When you go to sleep, elevate your head to relieve some of the pressure.
  • Make a mouth rinse of warm saltwater. 
  • For some types of toothaches, clove oil may be used for pain relief.
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Article Sources
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