Toothaches are a painful annoyance no matter what time they strike. Unfortunately, most people find that their symptoms are worst at night when they’re trying to sleep.
Why is this? The answer is simple:
When your body is lying flat, blood is better able to circulate toward the head and neck, increasing pressure and leaving sensitive parts such as an achy tooth or swollen gumline to bear the brunt of the pain.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about a night-time toothache is that the dentist has closed for the day, leaving you alone to suffer through the night with throbbing tooth pain. And that tooth pain can make it near impossible to fall asleep.
Fortunately, there are as many remedies to dull a toothache as there are ways to develop one.
So whether your midnight misery is due to a dental abscess or simply the common cavity, this article will discuss a myriad of ways to dull night-time pain, allowing you to catch those zzz’s in times of unease.
Note: if your tooth pain is caused by braces, we cover that in a separate guide.
1. Sleeping with Infection-related Pain
If your toothache consists of painful, continual throbbing that radiates over the jawbone and up the neck, or if your lymph nodes are swollen, then it may be the result of an infection within the tooth or gum known as an abscess.
Gum abscesses are an infection between the tooth and gum, typically resulting from trapped food particles collecting bacteria in the gum/tooth gap.
Abscesses can quickly become a serious health concern, and should the above-mentioned symptoms apply to you, then you will want to treat the tooth accordingly, employing antiseptic measures against the infection (as well as scheduling a dentist appointment).
But until your appointment, here are some remedies that can be added to your nighttime routine to ensure that pain doesn’t interfere with your sleep.
Rinse with Spice Before Bed
Many spices are naturally antiseptic, and when applied to the source of infection, not only aid in curbing infection, but in the reduction of pain as well.
The combined properties of localized, fast-acting, natural treatment makes spices a powerful before-bed tool in your fight against oral infection.
The most common spice for use in infection-induced toothaches is clove (either in oil form or as grounds), though a Cayenne pepper and saltwater mix can also be used to great effect.
When using clove oil, the easiest mode of application is to dab a cotton swab with the oil and hold it over the achy tooth. Within minutes, users report a pleasant numbness that allows them to fall asleep without the distraction of constant, throbbing pain.
Note: Clove oil is often sold in the organic section of most grocery stores. However, prices range anywhere from $3 to $20, so you’ll want to shop around.
Recipe for Cayenne/Saltwater Rinse:
Mix 5 shakes of Cayenne Powder to 1 cup of hot water, gargling at 15 minute intervals until pain has subsided.
Be aware, swallowing this mixture will burn, so be careful.
Apply a Numbing Paste Before Bed
Though not a permanent solution to a serious oral infection, there is a simple recipe for creating a sticky, numbing paste that you can apply directly to the source of your pain.
While over the counter numbing gels are surprisingly effective at numbing oral pain, they only work for a short period of time. However, by mixing a numbing solution into a paste, you can extend its window of effectiveness, making it a great before-bed pain preventative.
Here’s the recipe:
- 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
- 1 Teaspoon of oral numbing solution such as Oragel
- 1 Teaspoon of baking soda
- One ground-up Aspirin
- Mix until it turns to paste.
The paste can now be applied to the source for instant pain relief that lasts long enough for you to drift off to sleep.
Note: For best results, apply paste after gargling and rinsing with saltwater solution.
2. Sleeping with Swelling-related Pain
Those who have undergone oral surgery such as a root canal or wisdom teeth removal are inevitably going to experience a great deal of painful swelling in the gums following surgery.
This tends to make the doctor’s orders of “rest and recuperate” difficult to follow through on.
If this is you, then you’ll need to work hard to keep swelling at a minimum. One of the best and easiest ways of doing this is to adjust your sleeping position.
Rest with your Head Upright
By resting with your head propped above the heart and at a downward angle, you’re preventing blood from pooling and creating swelling in the head and neck, as well as relieving pressure in blood vessels along sensitive areas of the gumline.
Of course, it is worth noting that improper use of a pillow can throw the spine out of alignment, creating neck and back pain. But even so, this doesn’t mean you have to go without a pillow during your time of need.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
The best way of keeping your head upright while maintaining proper spinal alignment is to use a wedge-pillow.
This angled door-stopper shaped wedge of cushion will keep your head above the heart and pointed downward without sacrificing proper form.
They’re about $30 and you can (and should) continue to use them long after your recovery from surgery and/or general oral inflammation.
Eat Wisely Before Bed
In the hours leading up to bed, it’s important to avoid hot foods that can trigger pain in swollen areas of the mouth.
Instead, you should be using food to your advantage.
Focus on cool foods and desserts such as refrigerated fruit or frozen yogurt that will dull the swelling.
Another option is to chew on ice chips.
However, during my recovery from my wisdom tooth removal, I’ve found “Arctic Zero” ice cream (specifically the cookies n’ cream flavor) to be a solid go-to for swelling. With a mere 35 calories per half-cup serving, it allowed me to stay on a diet without sacrificing taste, or neglecting my painfully swollen gums.
3. Sleeping with Sinus-Related Tooth Pain
Believe it or not, it’s hardly uncommon for toothaches to be caused by an inflammation of the sinuses, and further agitated by the pressure that results.
If this be the root of pain in your pearly whites, fear not, as there are a TON of ways to reduce sinus pressure.
Here are a couple of my personal favorites:
Use the Neti Pot at Night
I’ve preached my love of the Neti Pot in articles past and will continue to do so until modern science produces something cheaper and more effective.
Which may never happen…
In any case, this lantern-shaped sinus-rinser works by sending a saline rinse straight up the nose, through the sinus cavity, and out the other nostril, taking all matter of dried mucous with it. If you have a blocked nose, a neti pot is an amazing tool!
In taking such a direct route, results are immediate and visible, with the mucus that once caused pressure in your sinus and pain in the blood vessels of your teeth and gums swirling right down the drain.
The Neti Pot works great before bed, as it creates a temporary window of relief allowing you to fall asleep without sinus pressure. With your nasal passages clear, try to breath through your nose. Breathing through your mouth can cause your toothache to flare up.
Steam your way to Sleep
Whether by showering before bed or placing a humidifier on the bedside nightstand, breathing humidified air is an excellent way to keep your sinuses moist during the winter months, and allowing you to fall asleep without inflammation-induced pain in your nose and gums.
In keeping your airways moist, you’re better able to prevent mucus from drying and plugging up the sinus cavity; a problematic combination known for causing swelling and inflammation which extends to blood vessels in the teeth and gums.
Humidity also prolongs the effects of a sinus flush, making it a perfect sidekick for the Neti Pot.
4. General-purpose Pain Relief
For all other aches and pains in your teeth and gums, here are a few options to consider:
Ibuprofen, Aspirin, and Acetaminophen
For everything from backaches to sprained ankles, the long-lasting, analgesic, anti-inflammatory properties of Ibuprofen, Aspirin, and Acetaminophen make them an all-purpose weapon against generalized pain and swelling.
Taken before bed, these fast-acting medicines provide symptom relief throughout the night.
Rinse/Soak with Alcohol
If you’re out of mouthwash, hard alcohol can be used as a substitute rinse, as its numbing, disinfecting properties provide instant pain relief.
For extended relief, clamping down on an alcohol-soaked cotton ball while lying in bed is a simple, yet effective method to relieve symptoms in the window between wakefulness and sleep.
Sleep with an Ice Pack on your Pillow
Ice is another cheap, easily accessible, and natural remedy for generalized pain and swelling. While chewing on ice chips is one way to administer instant relief to the teeth and gums, the main drawback is that the ice melts too quick. It can also be too intense for prolonged use.
For those seeking long-lasting relief while not having to continually reinsert tiny ice shards into the mouth, the alternative is simple and lasts throughout the night:
Simply rest a towel-wrapped ice pack between your pillow and cheek and let the cold do its job while you sleep. Most ice packs take at least 2 hours to thaw, allowing for a wide window in which to fall asleep without pain.
Of course, practical and effective as they may be, at-home DIY solutions can only go so far, and it’s important to know the difference between a standard toothache and a dental emergency.
Signs and Symptoms of a Dental Emergency
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a dentist right away:
If you’re suffering from a broken tooth, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. This is not something to put off until the next morning.
If you absolutely cannot make it to a medical professional, rinse with warm water and apply gauze to the area.
Among other things, broken teeth are at risk for infection and require immediate treatment.
Though less serious than a broken tooth, loose fillings still qualify as a medical emergency and it’s recommended that you schedule an appointment with a medical professional as soon as possible.
Until the appointment, some over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen can be used to manage symptoms in the time leading up to the appointment.
Oral Pain During Pregnancy
When pregnant, it’s best to play it safe with any suspicious pain or discomfort. The general rule of thumb is to schedule an appointment with medical professional for any oral pain lasting longer than 2-3 days.
Furthermore, you should also consult with your doctor before taking any of the above-mentioned medications/supplements/at-home remedies.
Got a tip for sleeping with tooth pain? Share it in the comments section below!