When my tooth starting hurting this week, instead of calling the dentist right away, I reached for my herbals. I was curious to find out how herbs could help my tooth. I found there were several little green gems that could help me. I take good care of my remaining teeth. I am a dedicated flosser and brush my teeth with baking soda and My Magic Mud toothpaste. So, I am disappointed and a little annoyed that I have a toothache. But there are other factors that can influence tooth issues. For me, sometimes, when my body is battling a virus just like an old injury, my mouth will be sensitive and hurt. Fortuitously, I am enrolled in a Materia Medica class through MUIH and am reviewing the plant, prickly ash, Zanthoxylum clava-herculis.
Prickly ash, commonly known as the Toothache tree, was used by many Native American tribes to combat pain and digestive issues (Garrett, 2003). Other eclectics and modern herbalists also recommend prickly ash for toothaches. I have included some dosages and preparations below. The bark and berries are used generally as a tincture and a poultice.
Please note that this information is for educational purposes only and I will always recommend seeing an herbalist or your prepared healthcare professional for medical conditions.
Alexander and Straub-Bruce (2014) recommend a poultice made from the powdered form of equal parts slippery elm and prickly ash. The poultice is applied directly to the tooth and gum area and would draw out infection and give relief. They offer the following preparation and dosages:
Decoction: 1 teaspoon in about 8 oz. water, simmer ten minutes steep 30 minutes, drink 2 ounces three times daily
Poultice: topically for tooth pain as a plug or quid
Tincture: Dose .5 to 2 ml (10 to 40 drops) 3-4 times daily: tincture preparation 1:5, 70% alcohol.
Garrett (2003) notes the Native Americans chew the bark to alleviate toothache. It also been used as salve mixed with bear grease for treating wounds and boils.
Whelan (2011) suggest soaking a cotton wad in a small amount of Prickly ash tincture until saturated and applying directly to the tooth (Whelan, 2011). Whelan (2011) also suggested using prickly ash powder on a piece of white bread. He recommends spreading the bread with some peanut butter, sprinkling the herb on the bread and then molding it around the tooth. (I would suggest brushing your teeth and flossing thoroughly before applying the bread mold and after the pain has relented. The sugars in the bread and possibly in the peanut butter may contribute to further issues.)
So, what did I do for my tooth and more importantly, did it work? I used a tincture that was part of my lab kit from the university and applied it directly to the area, holding the liquid in my mouth for a time. I found it did relieve the pain for at least several hours. Last night when I went to bed, I had no pain and awoke this more morning with no pain. I am still going to schedule an appointment with the dentist – I am due for a cleaning anyway – but I can wait pain free until then. I am also going to try using the poultice of slippery elm powder and prickly ash recommended by Alexander and Straub-Bruce (2014).
Alexander, L. & Straub-Bruce, L. (2014). Dental Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Garrett, J.T. (2003). The Cherokee Herbal. Rochester, VT: Bear and Company.
Whelan, R. (2011). Prickly Ash. Retrieved February 1, 2018, from http://www.rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/prickly_ash.html