Do-It-Yourself Dental Anesthesia

In days of old, an aching tooth
Would be extracted; that’s the truth.
You’d scream; you’d cry; you’d curse; you’d shout
And then they’d yank the fucker out.
With luck, you might relieve the pain
With laudanum, or else cocaine,
With ether, nitrous oxide, wine…
Without luck, maybe turpentine.
I’m starting, now, tonight, to feel a
Need, perhaps, to test tequila.

(Please forgive my mortal sin;
It can’t be helped… I’m out of gin.)

Ok… the truth is, I can’t stand gin. It just seemed much more apropos when speaking of antique dentistry. Every modern over-the-counter dental pain deally is 20% Benzocaine, which really does dull (not eliminate, not even close) the pain for a few minutes… lulling you into a false sense of security, which lasts until you bend over to pick something up, or have to raise your voice to speak to 200+ students in a classroom, or, I dunno, breathe, or something.

I’m guessing there are big issues to write about. Wars, plagues, prejudice, bigotry, horrendous stories near and far… I have a toothache.

Shakespeare, once again, was right:

I pray thee peace, I will be flesh and blood;
For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently,
However they have writ the style of gods,
And made a push at chance and sufferance.

Much Ado, V, i, 34-38.


  1. Rob says

    Cuttlefish, my sincerest condolences. I’m told aching teeth are terrible (I have great teeth that never seem to hurt – touches wood). If you have access to oil of cloves try rubbing some on the affected tooth and surrounding gums. Works better for some people than others, but does have a known mechanism. Maybe even chewing a whole clove or two…

  2. lorn says

    The two things I used to keep in my emergency kit for dental pain are diphenhydramine, Benedryl, capsules and dental wax.

    The powder in a standard 25 mg capsule of diphenhydramine, Benedryl, can be cut in half and used as two doses. You just open up and dump it on the area. It numbs the area for about an hour and a bit longer with repeat use. The numbing effect is pretty effective. I used dyphenhydramine to numb my skin on my arm so I could stitch myself up. Keep total usage under two capsules every six hours. The manual says you can go higher but this is a fairly conservative limit. The normal warnings and precautions advocating extreme caution, awareness of possible allergies, and only taking medical advice from professionals apply. This worked for me but your mileage will almost certainly vary.

    Standard OTC pain killers also work but only take the edge off.

    The thing that offers the most immediate relief is the wax is sold in most drug stores, primarily intended for wrapping rough spots on braces so they don’t shred the tissue. It is usually a small paper pack age with five or six strips of wax a bit smaller than a stick of gum. It sells fora couple of bucks. Covering a cavity or a crack in a tooth, excluding air, can markedly reduce the pain.

    Wax and Tylenol got a fellow hiker through four day trip with only minimum pain.

    I also had a temporary filling kit but for getting through a day or two the wax works well enough. A temporary filling can make thing much worse and may work so well in the short term that necessary dental work gets put off until the initial minor problem becomes much, much worse. How bad can it get? In one case I read about the temporary filling allowed pressure to build, infection to be forced into the jaw, and the person lost a major chunk of jaw. The pictures were scary.

  3. Joan says

    Don’t mean to throw cold water on your temporary pain relievers. (ouch! cold water..) but if the tooth pain is that excruciating it might well be the root. I cannot imagine the pain of having to do anything with that going on let alone teach. Yeah, I know. Midterms. But shame you could not make a place in your schedule for an emergency trip to the dentist. At the very least they could sus out the source, and do something. Even a temporary prescription of antibiotics over the phone can quell an abscess, You don’t want one of those.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Thanks to all–Joan, if it was actually unbearable, I did have the option of an appointment wednesday at exactly the time of one of my classes. And believe me, had it been unbearable, I would be live-tweeting a tooth extraction (or whatever). Today, my dentist is closed, but I would have gone to an emergency dentist in a heartbeat if needed. I am fortunate enough to have those options, but I am also fortunate enough to not need them *this time*.

    But damn, I am ready for the dentist tomorrow!

  5. Trebuchet says

    I feel your pain. I’ve been dealing with a bum tooth saga for since last March, and just spent another 2-12 hours in the chair yesterday. Looks like one more appointment to go for that particular problem.

    @2, lorn: Benadryl, huh? I think ours is all in pill form but I might just look for some capsules.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    I leave in an hour and a half, and I hope to hell this is not going to be a multiple-month procedure!

    Don’t know whether it is the nature of the trigeminal nerve, or very bad luck, but it now feels like I have demons in both the upper and lower molar on that side.

  7. lorn says

    Trebuchet @ #5:

    Benadryl pills will work but you need to grind them down to powder. A mortar and pestle is ideal but a pill can be crushed with pliers or pounded to pounded with a hammer. It helps if you fold the pill into a bit of cloth before crushing to contain the bits. Capsules filed with a very fine powder are easier to work with for field expedient uses.

    Benadryl is handy stuff.
    Deep in the back woods and lacking an Epi-pen we were able to moderate a potentially deadly anaphylactic response to bee stings with Benadryl and very strong coffee. It bought us enough time to get the guy to a clinic. Doc said it saved the day.

    It is our go-to for sleep aide. One or two 25 mg capsules tends to lay most people out and allow them to get some sleep.

    A bit of Benadryl powder and a few drops of water makes a paste that deadens itchy mosquito bites and poison ivy rash.

    The powder sprinkles over a laceration or abrasion makes scrubbing, digging the dirt out, and bandaging much more pleasant. Sprinkled onto a gum or opening in a tooth it numbs the area.

    And if you have any left over it works for allergies when other antihistamines fail.

    Benadryl is considered one of the most widely used and safe OTC drugs available but you still need to use common sense , control total dosage, avoid it where the side effects could be dangerous, and avoid overuse.

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