OTC Gels Ease Minor Toothaches

Pain relief for minor toothaches found with OTC benzocaine gels

(RxWiki News)

A recent clinical trial tested the effectiveness of two strengths of over-the-counter pain relieving gels for the temporarily ease the pain of a minor toothache.

The results of this study found that both maximum and regular strength gels helped relieve toothaches compared to a benzocaine free gel.

"See a dentist for long-term toothaches."

Elliot V. Hersh, MD, PhD, professor of pharmacology in the Department of Oral Surgery and Pharmacology at the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, led an investigation into the use of topical over-the-counter (OTC) gels to relieve toothaches.

There are several brands of topical benzocaine gels on the market to relieve pain associated with canker sores and minor gum irritations.

In this clinical trial, the researchers specifically tested the over-the-counter regular strength, 10 percent benzocaine concentration, and maximum strength, 20 percent benzocaine concentration, gels brand names, Orajel and Anbesol, to see if they would also provide relief from short-term toothaches.

Participants were recruited if they were at least 12 years of age and had a short-term toothache in one tooth. To qualify for the trial, the toothache could only be due to a cavity, loss of a filling or a cracked tooth. 

A total of 576 participants were split into three trial groups: 10 percent benzocaine gel, 20 percent benzocaine gel, and benzocaine free gel.

The participants were asked to use the gel they were given and rate their dental pain with a 0 for no pain, 1 for slight pain, 2 for moderate pain and 3 for severe pain over the course of 120 minutes.

The researchers kept track of how much gel each of the participants used. People used an average of 236 mg of gel with 88 percent of people using less than 400 mg of gel.

After using the 20 percent benzocaine gel, 87 percent of the group reported at least a one point reduction on the pain scale. After using the 10 percent benzocaine gel, 81 percent of the group reported at least a one point reduction on the pain scale . After using the benzocaine free gel, 70 percent of the group reported at least a one point reduction on the pain scale.

No allergic reactions occurred. It took an average of 1.1 minutes for the 20 percent benzocaine gel to provide any relief and 3.2 minutes for it to provide meaningful relief from pain. It took an average of 1.4 minutes for the 10 percent benzocaine gel to provide any relief and 4.4 minutes for it to provide meaningful relief from pain.

It took an average of 2.0 minutes for the benzocaine free gel to provide any relief and 8.5 minutes for it to provide meaningful relief from pain.

“Patients can use 10 percent and 20 percent benzocaine gels to temporarily treat toothache pain safely,” said the study authors.

Over-the-counter benzocaine gels typically run under $10.

This study was published in May in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and Church & Dwight supported funding for this project. Ms. Levya is an employee of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare and owns stock in Pfizer. None of the other 19 study authors declared any competing interests. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 28, 2013