Image of a ship trapped in ice Caption:Ice Bound Without A Tooth Ache Remedy

Ice Bound Without A Tooth Ache Remedy
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Can You Imagine Exploring The Frozen Arctic, A Thousand Miles From Home Without A Tooth Ache Remedy?


It would be foolhardy preparing for any expedition without considering a tooth ache remedy of some sort. I’m sure it was cause for concern for William Baffin in 1615. Commissioned to find a trade route to India, known as the Northwest Passage, he explored the area west of Greenland. More than a thousand miles from the Walmart of their day, if a tooth ache occured, alcohol was used as the universal medicinal. The Brits, astutely aware of the hardships on ocean going vessels, supplied a generous daily alcohol allotment to all sailors. The remedy required the achey tooth be flooded with alcohol long enough for the pain to subside.  Then you could swallow the alcohol, allowing none of it to go to waste, for additional pain relief.

Agony, A Swollen Face, A Toothache

Two hundred years later, another arctic explorer, Sir John Ross tried several more times to find the elusive route to India. Ross, on one exploratory journey, was seen walking around on the ice in agony, with a swollen face complaining of a raging toothache. Even though the British had graduated their alcohol ration from weak beer in the 1600’s  to strong rum in the 1800’s it did not relieve Ross’ pain.

Complaining Of A Tooth Ache? Slap Him Silly

An eskimo, who grasped the cause of Ross’s dire situation, immediately came to the rescue and slapped the suffering Ross’ swollen cheek three times and blew in his face three times. It was said to have resulted in an immediate “cure.” The previously swollen faced Ross recorded the effectiveness of the novel eskimo method of how to get rid of a toothache.

Further inquiry revealed that this three-slap-method was a favorite method of the eskimos and practiced primarily on foreigners. It is certainly on the list of “unusual home remedies for a toothache.”

My scientific guess is that the slap caused an abscess to drain, relieving pus buildup and the associated pressure and pain. It’s not what I recommend for my patients today, but it may help if you are stuck north of the arctic circle with a tooth ache. Note, it’s not officially recorded whether a perceptive observer caught the occasional eskimo with a smirk on his face when treating a foreign toothache sufferer with three smacks to the face! I think the eskimos enjoyed it.

Eskimos Were Once Cavity Free

Originally, the eskimos did not even have a word for toothache in their language. Before processed foods were introduced, all of their food was eaten raw. With no grains or sugars of any kind, the eskimos of that era were cavity free! That cut down on tooth aches. Not a remedy per se but effective non the less. Perhaps we could learn from the “primitive” eskimos.

The Netsilik-Inuit natives provided Ross and his men with food and survival coaching tips allowing them to survive the four years they were trapped north of the arctic circle with only one casualty. Each summer’s thaw allowed a brief period of ship mobility. Eventually they broke free long enough to return home.

Alcohol Is Not The Best Remedy

Little is known about the details of these hardy explorers and their tooth troubles but, eventually their kit contained additional home remedies for toothache beside alcohol.

Many more toothache remedies were introduced as the British continued to explore the world by ship. Trading with India and the Middle East brought new spices and their healing properties to the Western world.

Image of an Indian dish containing mustard oil the same ingredient used in Ayurvedic toothache remedies

Mustard oil used in many Indian recipes is also used in toothache remedies

Indian Tooth Ache Remedies Of Today

I enjoy cooking from Indian recipes and find the dishes vary from very bland to fiery hot based on the spices they contain. Mustard oil is a mainstay of many Indian dishes and is an active ingredient in Indian/Ayurvedic toothache home remedies.

The most basic recipe:

1. 1/2 tsp Salt
2. 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3.  Enough water to make a paste
4.  Apply to tooth for 5 min
5.  Gargle with normal water

Here is one home remedy recipe:

1. 1 tsp lukewarm mustard oil
2. Add a pinch of turmeric powder
3. Mix well
4. Apply on the aching tooth
5. Leave for 5 min
6. Gargle with normal water

Another recipe uses the world stinkiest spice, in my humble opinion, asafoetida or hing.

1. 1 tsp lemon juice
2. Add 1 tsp asafoetida powder (stinky)
3. Mix well
4. Apply and leave for 5 min
5. Wash mouth with plain water

And one more that tastes much better and is more for the Western palate:

1. Heat 1 tsp coconut oil
2. Fry 3 hole cloves in it
3. Allow it to cool
4. Grind the cloves in the oil making a paste
5. Apply the mixture on the aching tooth
6. Leave for 10 min
7. Wash it off with plain water

In this recipe you are extracting the natural clove oil from the whole cloves into the coconut oil for application to the tooth. This is similar to the concentrated clove oil used by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Marathon Man. A definite cringeworthy movie.

Clove oil, used for years as a dental remedy, is still used today though it is often stabilized by mixing it with powered zinc oxide. Dentists will recognize this as Z.O.E. or zinc oxide and eugenol (clove oil).

The Dentist’s Remedy

A dry mixture of the two, zinc oxide and eugenol, can be rolled into a little ball and pressed into the cavity hole. The excess is then immediately wiped or chewed away. If proportioned correctly, it hardens within in few minutes. It releases a small amount of clove oil over time which continues to relieve minor toothache symptoms.

Dentists use it primarily as a temporary filling. It is placed it into deeper cavities, after removing much of the decay softened dentin, where it relieves pain, keeps food out until there is time to properly restore the damaged tooth.

From the Eskimo-Inuit of the arctic to the sub continent of India toothache remedies abound, but the Middle East has been a unique and ancient source of valuable spices.

The Spice Trade Gave Us-Myrrh From The Middle East

Another toothache remedy ingredient is myrrh. It is a gum resin obtained from the bark of the thorny Commiphora tree. It was used in ancient Egyptian embalming techniques dating back to 3000 BC. The early Chinese used it for its wound healing properties. It’s currently being used in incense and perfumes in addition to its medical applications. It was once so highly valued it was among the gifts presented to the baby Jesus along with frankincense and gold.

Vodka And Myrrh A Tooth Ache Remedy Cocktail

A tincture, which is an alcohol based solution, containing myrrh has been used as a toothache remedy. Myrrh resin, in some recipes, is dissolved in a drinkable alcohol, such as vodka. It is applied 3-4 times per day for several days by holding in the mouth until the pain subsides and then spit out. It is not swallowed.

Image of an ad for Cocaine Toothache Drops from 1885, with children conspicuously placed

Cocaine Toothache Drops for the masses.

Cocaine For Tooth Aches?

Just as the original Coca-Cola formula contained cocaine, so did a an 1897 recipe for a toothache remedy in a U.S. book of druggist formulas.

Thymol 15 grains (from oil of thyme).
Menthol 15 grains (from peppermint).
Cocaine 1 grain.
Chloroform 2 ounces

Place a few drops on cotton-wool to be inserted into the cavity of the tooth.

The cocaine acted as an anesthetic and numbed the tooth pain. It is still used as specialized surgical anesthetic today.  As cocaine can be dangerous and chloroform can destroy your liver, it probably would not be approved for use today.

These remedies are not specific advice for anyone and are for education purposes only. If you have a dental problem please consult a licensed heath professional for specific recommendations and/or treatment. I suggest a holistic or biological dentist for your care. Have a tooth ache? Avoid any Eskimo with a smirk on his face.