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Toothpaste on Burns: Does This Home Remedy Work?

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

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

The journal Burns & Trauma published a study that found nearly 70 percent of people would use toothpaste or honey to treat a burn.

But is putting toothpaste on a burn ever a good idea? We'll let you know why you might want to rethink a popular home remedy for burns. Plus, we present the proper way to treat a burn at home and advise you on when to get medical treatment.

Why You Don't Want to Put Toothpaste on Burns

A study published in the Journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries notes that applying toothpaste to a burn is a "potentially harmful" treatment that can "worsen the burn." Toothpaste can intensify the burn's pain and increase the risk of infection and scarring.

You have to admit that the ingredients in toothpaste aren't exactly soothing. Toothpaste contains abrasives and detergents that do a great job of cleaning your teeth. But for treating a burn, not so much.

How to Treat a Burn at Home

First things first: Determine if the burn is minor or major. Unless a burn affects sensitive parts of your body, you can usually treat minor burns at home,

Minor burns suitable for home treatment include:

  • First-degree burns, which appear on the outer skin layer, are usually red, painful, and swollen.
  • Small second-degree burns are no more than three inches in diameter. These burns are usually red, swollen, painful, and develop a blister impacting the outer and the underlying skin layers.

To treat minor burns, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) advises:

  • First, 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 frigid temperature can further injure the skin.
  • After cooling the burn, 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, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. We want to make sure you're comfortable.

When to Get Medical Help

Major burns and burns affecting some age groups need immediate professional medical attention. In the case of a major burn, head to the nearest emergency room or call 911 right away. Don't try to treat the burn yourself or soak it in cool water unless the 911 operator specifically tells you to do so.

Since it's essential to prevent burn-related infections and other complications, the National Institutes of Health advises urgent medical help in these cases:

  • If a child age 4 or younger or an adult 60 and older suffers any kind of burn – minor or major.
  • You can't diagnose the type of burn. In that case, go ahead and treat it as a major burn.
  • You experience large second-degree burns or second-degree burns on the hands, feet, face, joints, posterior, or genital area.
  • You suffer third-degree burns that penetrate deep into the skin, turning it white or black. The burned area might be numb.

Although home remedies seem like ideal options, in some cases – such as using toothpaste on a burn – they might 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. Though there are easy steps to treat a minor burn at home, please remember: Save your toothpaste for your toothbrush!

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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