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Toothpaste on Burns: Does This Home Remedy Work?

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You're taking a dish out of the oven when the pot holder slips and your palm touches the oven rack. Ouch! What's the first thing you do to soothe the pain of a burn?

One study of over 400 caregivers published in Burns: Journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries found that nearly one-third would use a non-scientific remedy, such as putting toothpaste on burns, honey, egg whites to treat the problem. Another study from the journal Burns & Trauma , found that nearly 70 percent of people would use toothpaste or honey to treat a burn.

Is putting toothpaste on a burn ever a good idea? Here's why you might want to rethink a popular at-home burn treatment.

Why You Don't Want to Put Toothpaste on Burns

The general consensus seems to be that putting toothpaste on a burn isn't a good idea. One reason for that is that the ingredients in toothpaste aren't exactly soothing. Toothpaste contains abrasives and detergents, which work well for cleaning your teeth, but not so well when in easing the pain of a burn.

As the University of Rochester Medical Center notes, applying any sort of greasy substance (such as butter) to a burn can delay the healing process and make it more difficult to properly treat the injury.

One last reason to avoid using toothpaste as a first-aid remedy for burns: it can increase the risk of infection. The American Academy of Dermatology advises against using toothpaste, butter or topical ointments on burns, noting that all three can lead to an infection.

How to Treat a Burn at Home

What can you do if you or someone you know gets burned? The first thing to do is determine what type of burn it is. You can divide burns into two major categories: minor burns and major burns. You can usually treat minor burns at home, but major burns need the attention of a medical professional. If you can't tell what type of burn you're dealing with, the National Institutes of Health advises that you treat it as a major burn and get medical help.

Minor burns that you can treat at home include first-degree burns (which are usually red, painful and swollen) and small second-degree burns (which are usually red, swollen, painful and develop a blister). The first thing to do is to cool the burn, using cool (not ice-cold) water. Soak the burned area in the water or apply a cold, damp compress to the area for at least 10 minutes. Don't use ice on the burn, as the very cold temperature can further injure the skin.

After cooling the burn, you can apply a layer of petroleum jelly to protect it and cover it with a bandage. If there's a blister, avoid popping it. If you're in a lot of pain, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

When to Get Medical Help

Major burns need professional medical attention. Large second-degree burns or second-degree burns on the hands, feet, face, joints or genital area should be checked out by a doctor, as should third-degree burns (which penetrate deep into the skin, turning it white or black). In the case of a major burn, call 911 right away and follow the operator's instructions. Don't try to treat the burn yourself or soak it in water unless the operator specifically tells you to do so.

Although home remedies seem like ideal options in some cases, they can often do more harm than good. If you aren't sure what to do to treat a burn, it's best to seek medical help, even if the burn seems relatively minor. That means saving the toothpaste for your toothbrush!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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