Aspirin next to your tooth helps your heart and not your toothache

Since publishing Dental MythBuster #5 – Placing aspirin on a tooth cures a toothache, the post has racked up over 47,000 views and averages approximately 100 per day (as of March 2016). No wonder. People are always looking for home remedies and a do-it-yourself solution for a toothache is searched upon quite often.

low_dose_aspirin

Placing this next to your tooth might give you an unexpected reaction

Many have posted comments claiming I am wrong.  But the only piece of evidence offered by the posters is simply a summary of their own personal experience(s). It goes something like this:

I did it – and the pain went away – so it works – so you’re wrong.

Making broad generalizations based upon one single experience does not prove anything. What if I wrote this:

I smoked 2 packs a day for fifty years and I don’t have lung cancer. So cigarettes must not cause lung cancer then.

Would you agree with that person? Or would you say – everyone knows smoking will cause lung cancer – you can’t generalize based on one experience.

A Home Remedy for a Heart Attack

No, this is not a joke. I am bringing up this specific example to show that placing an aspirin next to a broken tooth will do more for your heart than the tooth!

Many readers know that if/when a heart attack is suspected, one of the first things you are supposed to do (besides calling 911) is to chew on an aspirin. Note that we said chew and not swallow. There are literally hundreds of sources for this, including the Red Cross and the American Heart Association. In fact, it is a critical part of the BLS/CPR algorithm (here is a link from the New York Times).

broken tooth showing where you should NOT put an aspirin

Placing aspirin next to this broken tooth will result in burned gums and a healthy heart but no toothache relief.

Why should you chew and not swallow the aspirin?

Simple. Because the thin mucous membrane of the mouth – especially under the tongue – allows for the aspirin to be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. In this study, chewed aspirin exerted its desired effect almost two and half times faster than aspirin that was swallowed.

So, to summarize, when you place an aspirin in most areas of the mouth, it goes into the bloodstream quickly and goes to exert its effects on the heart and other organs – all far away from the mouth.

But What about the Tooth?

So if the asprin is absorbed and enters the bloodstream, how does it help the tooth? It doesn’t. Or more accurately, for toothache relief, it doesn’t matter whether you swallow, chew, or place the aspirin next to the tooth.

aspirin for a toothache

For a toothache, it doesn’t matter if you chew or swallow.

To those who are still claiming that placement of an aspirin next to the tooth will cure a toothache, I’ll ask this question:

How does the aspirin know to leave the mouth and go to the coronary arteries of a heart attack victim but to stay next to a throbbing tooth?

It doesn’t. This is why placement of an aspirin next a tooth won’t work any more effectively for toothache than swallowing it. The only difference is that you can get a nasty chemical burn of your gums (as seen in the first post).

Dental MythBuster #5 – Placing aspirin on a tooth cures a toothache.

Unlike many other myths in the Dental MythBuster series, this is one I do not see too often.  But I see this myth enough in practice to recognize it and it always follows a predictable pattern:

A patient comes in as an emergency appointment to my office in Orange, CT with distress and anxiety. He/she typically did not sleep well the night before due to the pain and looks disheveled. He or she will say something to the effect of: “Dr. Calcaterra, this tooth has been killing me and keeping me awake at night. I placed aspirin next to the tooth and it didn’t do a darn thing!  Can you help me?”

I perform my usual exam and x-ray and go ahead and diagnose the offending tooth. But I also notice the following:

Photo of when patient placed aspirin on tooth and burned his gums and cheek

White burn on the gums and cheek due to a patient placing aspirin next to the tooth in an attempt to relieve a toothache.

I see the characteristic white, chemical burn from the aspirin on the cheek and gums adjacent to the tooth. Now instead of just having a toothache, the patient is going to have a painful burn on their soft tissue for the next several days!

About Aspirin

Bayer Aspirin - not to be used for toothaches

The full name of aspirin is Acetylsalicylic Acid.  The first part of the name – acetylsalicylic – is not important. The second part of the name – Acid – is important!  I won’t go into the details on what makes a substance an acid, but an acid will burn tissue, especially the moist tissues of the mouth.

Many of us have experienced heartburn (technically called GERD or gastro-esophageal reflex disease) at some point in our lives.  In GERD, stomach acids go up the esophagus and can enter the mouth, leading to a burning pain.  The acid quite literally blisters the soft tissues of the esophagus and the mouth. So if you place aspirin on the gums right next to the tooth, you are putting an acidic substance that is almost as powerful as stomach acid in direct contact with the gum tissue. It is like heartburn of the gums!

In addition, the placement of the aspirin right next to the tooth will do nothing for the tooth pain!

How Aspirin can help with teeth pain

Aspirin works by blocking the production of certain pain chemicals in your blood.  When you swallow an aspirin tab, it is broken down and absorbed by the intestines and then enters the bloodstream.  The acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) then circulates around and interferes with pain chemicals at various parts of your body.  So if you have a headache, the aspirin travels by the bloodstream to the headache area, blocks the pain chemicals present, and you experience pain relief.

Photo of Aspirin on Forehead. This does not help with a headache

Aspirin on your forehead will not cure a headache!

But aspirin (and other pain pills such as Tylenol, Motrin, Aleve, etc.) can only work when they enter the bloodstream. Aspirin placed directly next to your tooth will ultimately enter your bloodstream (the rate at which it enters is dependent on a number of factors – all beyond the scope of this post). Without aspirin in your blood, it will not work. Would you place an aspirin pill on your forehead for a headache? Of course not!

I swallowed the aspirin and my tooth still hurts!

Pain relievers such as aspirin can reduce the feeling of pain, but they do not fix what is causing the pain. If you break your arm, a pain reliever may reduce some of the pain, but you still need to see an orthopedist!  The same goes for a toothache. Often times there is decay into the nerve of a tooth or a dental infection is present.  The aspirin may help, but the only way to get true pain relief is to get definitive treatment from your dentist. That treatment may ultimately end up being either a root canal or an extraction.

So, when you have dental pain, don’t place the aspirin next to your tooth. Call your dentist for an appointment and ask him/her what you should take for pain in the interim.  Until the next Dental MythBuster…

Still convinced that an aspirin next to your tooth helps more than swallowing it? See Part II of this post.