How to Use Clove Oil for a Toothache

Dab diluted clove oil on the affected area for a numbing effect

Clove oil is a natural remedy that's been used for centuries to treat toothaches. Tooth pain can often be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) topical anesthetics like Orajel or Anbesol but clove oil is another option you might consider.

This article will go over what you should know about using clove oil for toothaches. You'll also learn about the possible side effects and risks of using clove oil.

Close-up of clove/spice in a ceramic spoon
Veena Nair / Getty Images

Where Does Clove Oil Come From?

Cloves are popular in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. They were once inserted whole into an infected cavity or applied as a topical extract to relieve pain and inflammation from a tooth.

By the early 19th century, the active ingredient in cloves, Eugenium aromaticum, was combined with magnesium oxide to create a temporary material to fill teeth.

Since then, magnesium oxide was replaced by zinc oxide. Today, zinc oxide eugenol (ZOE) is a temporary filling cement used in dentistry and endodontics.

Cloves are dried flower buds taken from a tree of the Myrtaceae family. Clove oil is usually extracted by using a process called steam distillation. Other clove oil producers rely on chemical solvents and boiling to get the oil.

Depending on the method used, refined clove oil can contain anywhere from 80% to 90% eugenol.

How Clove Oil Works for Toothaches

Eugenol is the chemical that gives clove its spicy scent and pungent flavor. When it's put on tissues, it creates a warming sensation that Chinese herbalists believe treats yang deficiencies.

Clove oil works similarly to capsicum in peppers by stimulating the production of a protein called trans receptor potential vanilloid-1 (TRPV-1).

When it's activated, the protein desensitizes nerve endings near the surface of the skin. It also has strong antibacterial properties that can help with healing and prevent infections.

Clove oil can be colorless or have a slightly yellowish tinge. It's often used in dentistry to treat pain from a condition called dry socket that can happen when a tooth is taken out.

Clove oil can offer short-term relief of tooth pain but does not necessarily treat the underlying cause (such as an abscess, tooth decay, or a tooth fracture).

Some studies have suggested that clove oil is just as effective as medications like benzocaine for treating toothache, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that there is not enough evidence to support its use.

How to Use Clove Oil

Before you use clove oil, you need to dilute it. Clove oil should never be put on your gums undiluted because it can cause irritation and may lead to toxicity.

Clove oil can be diluted by adding two to three drops to a neutral carrier oil, such as olive oil or canola oil.

Then, the oil preparation can be dabbed onto the affected area with a cotton ball or swab. You can actually keep the cotton ball in place for several minutes to help it absorb better.

Once you put the clove oil on, you should feel a slight warming sensation and taste a strong, gun-powdery flavor. The numbing effect is usually fully felt within five to 10 minutes. You can reapply the clove oil every two to three hours as needed.

If you have more than one area of mouth pain after a dental procedure, you can add a few drops of clove oil to a teaspoon of coconut oil and swirl it in your mouth to coat it. Just be careful that you do not swallow it.

Some people apply ground cloves directly to their gums; however, the taste is not very pleasant.

Side Effects of Clove Oil

Clove oil is considered safe if used appropriately, but it can be toxic if you use too much or use it too often.

The most common side effect of clove oil is tissue irritation that causes symptoms like pain, swelling, redness, and a burning (rather than warming) sensation.

If you have these symptoms after using clove oil, it might be because the concentration is too high or you are sensitive to eugenol. Do not keep using the treatment because it could cause lesions to form in your mouth (contact stomatitis).

You should never drink or eat clove oil. Animal studies have shown that ingesting clove oil can lead to liver damage and the thickening and hardening of esophageal and stomach tissue. Gastric ulcers and kidney impairment can also happen.

Since clove oil can be toxic if it's ingested, it's important to store it where children and pets can't get to it.

Allergic reactions to clove oil happen in about 2% of people who use it. Most cases are mild and don't last long. People who are allergic to clove oil may get a localized rash, itching, swelling, and scratchy throat. Clove oil is generally not associated with a more severe, life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

You also should not inhale clove oil too much, as it can lead to respiratory symptoms like a sore throat, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Long-term exposure to clove oil can increase the risk of lung infection. That might be one reason why there's a high rate of infection and pulmonary edema in people who smoke clove cigarettes.

Can You Overdose on Clove Oil?

If you swallow a large amount of clove oil, it can cause serious symptoms including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you swallow clove oil by accident and have symptoms, get medical care right away.

Clove Oil Contraindications

Clove oil should not be used if you are actively bleeding because eugenol interferes with normal blood clotting.

Clove oil may not be safe for people with bleeding disorders or people who regularly take blood thinners such as warfarin.

You also should not use clove oil right before a dental procedure or other surgery because it might make you bleed easier.

Can Children Use Clove Oil?

Clove oil is not regulated in the same way as a pharmaceutical drug, but the FDA strongly advises against using clove oil in children.

Alternatives to Clove Oil

Clove oil has long been a tried-and-true remedy but it's not for everyone. If you can't tolerate the taste of clove oil or it causes an allergic reaction or side effects, there are some other things that you can try to help with tooth pain:

  • Rinsing your mouth with saltwater or ice water
  • Dabbing diluted peppermint oil on your gums
  • Pressing a moistened peppermint tea bag against your gums
  • Placing a cold compress against your cheek
  • Taking an OTC painkiller like Tylenol (acetaminophen)

Summary

Clove oil has been used for centuries to treat tooth pain. Dabbing a little bit of diluted oil on the gums may help with pain and inflammation because of the chemicals that the oil contains.

There haven't been a lot of studies on the safety and effectiveness of using clove oil and the FDA advises caution since it's not an approved treatment. You also should not use clove oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have bleeding problems. Kids also can't use clove oil.

A Word From Verywell

If you have a toothache, do not use clove oil or any other natural or pharmaceutical product as a substitute for dental care. If a toothache is not getting better or is getting worse, it's important that you get treatment to prevent complications.

If you do not have insurance and are worried about paying for dental care, look for low-cost and no-cost providers in your area using the online locator that's managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you put clove oil directly on a tooth?

    The pain from a toothache is usually in the gum around your tooth rather than the tooth itself. To get the numbing effect of clove oil, it's best to put it on the tissues around the tooth so it can be absorbed. Only use a couple of drops and make sure to dilute it with a carrier oil like olive oil.

  • Will clove oil damage your teeth?

    Clove oil could potentially damage your gums, your tooth enamel, and the important parts inside your teeth called the pulp.

3 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.
  1. Taberner-vallverdú M, Nazir M, Sánchez-garcés MÁ, Gay-escoda C. Efficacy of different methods used for dry socket management: A systematic review. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2015;20(5):e633-9. doi:10.4317/medoral.20589

  2. National Institutes of Health. Clove.

  3. National Institutes of Health. Eugenol.

Additional Reading

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