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Whiskey for Toothache. Does It Work and Why?

Have you ever found yourself clutching your jaw in pain, desperately searching for a quick remedy to soothe a throbbing toothache?

You may have tried everything to relieve the pain—painkillers, numbing gels, cold compress, salt water rinse, and even garlic. But have you heard of using whiskey to relieve a toothache? It may sound counterintuitive, but this age-old remedy is actually be an effective way to reduce pain and inflammation from a toothache.

For centuries, whisky has been a used as a natural remedy to relieve pain and discomfort. In fact, its history in medical treatment dates back to the Civil War when it was used in the battlefield to clean wounds. The numbing effect of whisky combined with its supposed antiseptic properties has made it a go-to solution for people with toothache. But, beyond its reputation as a folk remedy, what is it about whiskey, or even other alchol, that makes it effective for treating toothache?

In the rest of this article, we will take a deep dive into science behind it and discuss the cons of using it as a home remedy for relieving toothache. Whether you’re someone who has relied on whiskey for your toothache, or are simply curious about this age-old tradition, this article is for you!

The Science Behind Using Whisky

Like a mouthwash, the whisky myth suggests that one should swish whisky in the mouth for approximately 30 seconds before spitting it out. An alternative method is to soak a cotton ball in whisky and press it against the tooth that is causing the pain. There are numerous reasons why whisky can be an effective method to relieve a toothache.

Firstly, whiskey can provide temporary relief for a toothache due to its high alcohol content of 40 to 60% alcohol by volume (ABV). The alcohol act as a local anesthesia, providing a numbing effect when it is swished in your mouth and comes into contact with the affected tooth.

It works by suppressing the pain receptors, reducing the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This temporarily impairs a person’s judgement and perception of pain. However, this effect is short-lived, and whiskey does not address the underlying cause of the toothache.

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Secondly, whiskey contains various compounds, such as phenols and esters, which have mild antimicrobial properties. These compounds can help to inhibit the growth of some bacteria, which might help to keep the area around the toothache clean and reduce the risk of an infection.

However, the antimicrobial properties of whiskey are relatively weak compared to other antiseptics, so it should not be relied upon as the primary method of infection prevention or control.

While whiskey may offer some temporary relief, it is not a medically recommended approach to treating toothaches due to the downside associated with the use of whisky.

Reasons to Not Use Whisky

In spite of the seemingly magical ability of whisky to relieve the pain of a toothache, there are several other factors that make it an undesirable choice compared to other safer and more effective alternatives:

  1. Whiskey only provides temporary pain relief due to its numbing effect. It does not address the root cause of the toothache, such as cavities, infections, or abscesses, which requires proper dental treatment.
  2. Whisky can lead to dental erosion as it is a moderately acidic alcohol. Most whisky have a pH range of between 3 and 4.5. To compare, the pH range of the human mouth is between 6.2 and 7.5. Acidic drinks and food will not only contribute to the erosion of the tooth enamel but also prolong the recovery process in the event of an ulcer or after a wisdom tooth removal.
  3. Whisky will destroy both good and bad bacteria. This leaves your mouth at risk of an infection. In fact, many heavy drinkers, defined as more than 14 alcoholic drinks a week, have a lower concentration of good bacteria than most non or light drinkers.
  4. Ineffectiveness of its antimicrobial properties: The antimicrobial properties of whiskey are relatively weak compared to other antiseptics. Relying on whiskey for infection prevention or control is not a suitable approach.
  5. Alcohol is also an inflammatory substance, meaning that excessive consumption of it can cause inflammation. In a study conducted by the University of Porto in Portugal, the study concluded that high amounts of alcohol in the body led to high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). The more CRP there is in the blood, the more inflammation spreads.
  6. Excessive drinking of whisky can lead to a host of short-term health risks including dehydration, blurred vision, and nausea. In the longer run, it can lead to alcohol addiction if one heavily rely on alcohol consumption to numb the pain. Alcoholism causes a range of health conditions ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure to a weakened immune function and even bone loss.
  7. Alcohol must not be consumed together with certain medication. The mixing of alcohol with specific over-the-counter medications can lead to serious medical complications including drowsiness, nausea, and in severe cases, breakdown of the organs. For instance, alcohol must not be mixed with aspirin as it can damage the lining of the stomach. On the other hand, alcohol and insulin can cause severe reactions including life-threatening low blood sugar levels.

Will Any Alcohol Works?

Any type of alcohol with an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 20% and higher will work well to numb the pain and disinfect the area where the toothache is located. This includes spirits such as gin, vodka, and rum. However, one should not use alcohols with high sugar content as it can led to the buildup of plaque and exacerbate the dental problem. Examples of alcohols with high sugar content are red wine, white wine, and beer in general.

Assortment of alcohol

That said, whisky or any alcoholic drinks are not a substitute for medication or dental treatment as they merely provide temporary numbing effects and does not address the root cause of the pain. It is always best to seek help from a professional dentist or dental surgeon who will be able to provide the appropriate course of action to treat your toothache.

Alternatives to Relieve Toothache

As mentioned above, any form of alcohol can be detrimental to your health if consumed excessively. Instead, consider these methods to manage your toothache:

  1. Over-the-counter pain relievers: Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen as directed on the package to help reduce pain and inflammation. As far as possible, avoid narcotic pain medication as they may lead to unwanted side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, cognitive issues, and addiction.
  2. Cold compress: Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time to help reduce swelling and numb the pain.
  3. Saltwater rinse: Mix a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and swish it around your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out. This can help clean the area and reduce inflammation.
  4. Hydrogen peroxide rinse: Mix equal parts of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water, swish it around your mouth for 30 seconds, and spit it out. This can help reduce inflammation and kill bacteria, but it should not be swallowed. Hydrogen peroxide rinses should be used with caution, as excessive use can cause irritation to oral tissues.
  5. Clove oil: Apply a small amount of clove oil to a cotton ball and gently press it against the affected tooth for temporary relief. Clove oil contains eugenol, a natural anesthetic and antiseptic.
  6. Keep your head elevated: When lying down, use an extra pillow to keep your head elevated, as this can help reduce blood flow to the area and decrease inflammation.

Remember that these methods only provide temporary relief and do not address the underlying cause of the toothache. Furthermore, toothaches can be a symptom of more severe dental issues that require professional care, such as cavities, infections, or abscesses.


As we’ve explored, whiskey and other types of alcohol can help to relieve the pain of a toothache as the numbing effect can provide temporary relief. However, it is crucial to understand that it is not a medically recommended or long-term solution for managing toothaches. The potential irritation, short-lived relief, and health risks associated with alcohol consumption far outweigh any potential benefits.

Remember, toothaches can be indicative of more severe dental issues that require prompt attention from a dentist. Delaying proper treatment may lead to worsening dental problems and complications. So, the next time you find yourself in the throes of a toothache, consider reaching for one of the alternative remedies we’ve discussed instead of that bottle of whiskey. Your oral health will thank you!

Erinwood Brady

Brady Erinwood is an accomplished dentist operating in New York City. Renowned for his proficient use of state-of-the-art dental technologies, Dr. Erinwood offers both general and cosmetic dental services and is widely lauded for both his dental makeovers as well as his to enhancing the oral health of his community.