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 effective options that dentists recommend. However, there are some precautions that you need to take into account before you head to the drug store.

This article explains common causes of tooth pain and how to find the right OTC pain reliever until you can see your dentist.

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Common Causes of Tooth Pain

OTC pain relief medication is used in dentistry to manage pain. A number of dental problems can cause dental pain:

Choosing the Right OTC Pain Reliever

To find the right pain reliever, you should first understand how they work to manage pain. But, more importantly, you need to know whether or not they are safe for you.

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

  • Health conditions: Keep in mind that taking certain pain medications with some medical conditions can cause serious problems. In addition, if you are taking any prescription medications, you need to be aware of possible drug interactions.
  • Side effects: Even though these medications are available without a prescription, you should only take them for a short period of time. That's because they can cause serious side effects.
  • Read labels: Keep in mind that even though they are widely available, it is still possible to overdose. Follow the recommended dosages, and check labels to make sure you're not making multiple products containing the same medications.
  • Follow a dentist's guidance: It's best to call your dentist about tooth pain as soon as possible.


Speak with your healthcare provider, dentist, or pharmacist before taking any OTC pain relievers. And be sure to follow the dosage recommendations on the label.


The most popular OTC pain relief medication used in dentistry is ibuprofen. Popular brand names include Motrin and Advil. These are available in tablets, liquid gel capsules, and oral suspensions.

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

People taking certain medications should not use ibuprofen. These medications include:

Prolonged use of ibuprofen can irritate or damage your stomach, kidneys, and liver. In addition, ibuprofen use has been linked with a risk of heart attack and stroke.


Tylenol is the most common brand of acetaminophen. This is another popular OTC medication used to manage dental pain.

Acetaminophen is especially useful for people who are unable to take ibuprofen. It is available in tablets, liquid gel capsules, and oral suspension. However, though acetaminophen can lessen pain, it doesn't reduce inflammation like NSAIDs do.

Acetaminophen is sold by itself and is often also included in other medications. So be sure to discuss taking it with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to avoid exceeding the recommended daily dose or experience drug interactions.

In large doses, acetaminophen may lead to liver damage. Because of its effect on the liver, you should avoid drinking alcohol while taking this pain reliever.


An old folk remedy suggests that placing aspirin on a tooth relieves pain. Unfortunately, this is not true and can further damage your teeth. So be sure to swallow the pill as directed. 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 and 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 irritating them.
  • 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, you may use clove oil for pain relief.


Ibuprofen is the most commonly recommended pain reliever for dental pain. That's because, in addition to pain relief, NSAIDs also reduce inflammation.

Ibuprofen isn't appropriate for everyone, though. For example, people who take certain medications or have certain health conditions need to avoid NSAIDs.

Acetaminophen is another pain reliever. This is frequently used by people who can't take NSAIDs. However, acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider, dentist, or pharmacist before taking any OTC pain reliever. They can help you determine the correct dose and confirm that the medication does not interfere with your other prescribed drugs.

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4 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. Pozzi A, Gallelli L. Pain management for dentists: the role of ibuprofen. Ann Stomatol (Roma). 2011;2(3-4 Suppl):3–24.

  2. MedlinePlus. Ibuprofen. Updated July 15, 2016.

  3. MedlinePlus. Acetaminophen. Updated April 15, 2017.

  4. Vogel J, Heard KJ, Carlson C, Lange C, Mitchell G. Dental pain as a risk factor for accidental acetaminophen overdose: a case-control study. Am J Emerg Med. 2011;29(9):1125–1129. doi:10.1016/j.ajem.2010.08.006

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