Use of complementary and alternative medicine is on the rise in the United States. About 38 percent of adults and 12 percent of children are now using some form of complementary and alternative medicine, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Now comes word that clove oil, an essential oil from the clove plant, could potentially relieve toothache pain.
The New York Times recently took a closer look at clove oil as an alternative remedy. The essential oil has been shown to have analgesic and antibacterial properties—making it a useful tool in treating bacteria-caused toothaches.
However, it’s questionable whether clove oil will appeal to patients, said the Times.
“It has a strong and sometimes unpleasant taste, and if large quantities are accidentally ingested, it too can have side effects. But it was widely used in dentistry before the advent of more commercial anesthetics, and research shows it works thanks to its active ingredient, eugenol, the same compound responsible for the plant’s aroma,” wrote columnist Anahad O’Connor.
Mr. O’Connor cited a 2006 report in the Journal of Dentistry that split patients into four groups with each having clove gel, benzocaine, a placebo resembling the clove gel, or a placebo resembling benzocaine applied to their gums. Needlesticks were applied after five minutes. The placebos did not numb the tissue against pain, but the clove and benzocaine did—with very little difference shown between clove gel and benzocaine.
If clove oil is used, it can be applied by cotton swab or a piece of tissue, or applied gently to an affected area. Mr. O’Connor said it can be found in most health food stores. “Although considered safe when used correctly in small amounts, it can cause liver and respiratory problems when ingested in large quantities,” he wrote.
Benzocaine, which was used in the 2006 study, is the active ingredient in oral pain relievers Anbesol and Orajel, which are commonly available over the counter. Benzocaine is an anesthetic.
The over-the-counter drugs have valuable advice for patients, too: Tooth or gum pain, particularly that which lasts over a period of time, should be evaluated by a dentist. It may be a symptom of an underlying condition that requires attention.
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