Appalachian Medicine Folklore Heritage

What To Do For A Toothache

Toothache remedies and folklore in appalachia

Ever have a toothache? In my opinion, a toothache is one of the most aggravating and painful problems to have. Lucky for folks today relief is usually just a phone call away.

Back in the day-things were a little different. Dentists weren’t plentiful, it was hard to get into town to see one, and even if you could-you might not have the money needed to pay the bill. As with most ailments-there are tons of old medicinal remedies for toothaches in Appalachia-I’ve even tried a few myself.

A few years ago, I had a severe toothache. I kept taking pain medication and putting off going to the Dentist. One night when the the pain was pretty bad, Pap told me to take peroxide and swish it around in my mouth-then take a toothbrush and dip it in the peroxide and brush the tooth as hard as I could-all around it. Well desperate as I was-I did what Pap said. Honestly-for about 15-20 minutes I thought I was going to pass out from the pain-it was almost unbearable-but after about 25 minutes it eased off and actually quit hurting.

Appalachian Toothache Remedies:

  • hold liquor in the mouth for several minutes-then swallow
  • chew ragweed leaves
  • put cinnamon oil on the tooth
  • put clove oil on the tooth (I tried this one-couldn’t really tell that it helped)
  • put persimmon juice on the tooth
  • place a piece of cloth soaked in kerosene on the tooth
  • hold a warm bag of ashes, salt, or water on the cheek (I’ve tried this with a hot water bottle-it seemed to help a little)
  • if the cavity is deep in the tooth-the hole can be stuffed with soda, spider webs, aspirin, alum-that was burned, cow manure, or salt

Now for the really crazy ones:

  • take a splinter/piece of a tree that has been struck by lightning and pick the cavity
  • get up before sunrise each morning and say a Bible verse for 3 days
  • make a hole in a tree trunk a little higher than the toothache sufferers head-cut a piece of their hair and place it in the hole and plug up the hole

Prevention tips:

  • carry a hog’s head bone in your pocket
  • always put your left shoe on first
  • wear nutmeg around your neck
  • always cut your fingernails on Friday
  • never cut your fingernails on Friday

Ever tried any home remedies for a toothache?

Drop back by in the next few days to read about tooth pulling-it’ll make you cringe-or in Pap’s case pass out.



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  • Reply
    February 25, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Ok, so I was desperate, and sprayed a toothbrush with Lysol… and brushed the area in pain.. and it went away!

  • Reply
    November 16, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    My British husband swears by chewing a whole clove when you have a painful tooth. He said it works every time. I tried it once and it worked, but WOW what a taste!

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    October 2, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    All these home remedies for the tooth ache are really interesting. There’s nothing worse than a tooth ache. It’s terrible. Old-timers used to take a pair of plairs and yank out the tooth with no numbing except maybe some white-lightning. Just imagine how painful that was! It’s so important for us to take care of our teeth. Just yesterday morning Mama told me she and her siblings would take a black gum brush and brush their teeth with that when she was a child growing up here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’re fortunate to have dentists now.

  • Reply
    October 2, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Sounds like the liquor remedy must have been popular since it was listed first. If you repeat the procedure several times in succession you will find the world gets flat and you don’t care if your tooth hurts. Pappy

  • Reply
    October 1, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Good golly ~ cow manure? Really?! I’ll pass on many of these, thank you.
    When I had my wisdom teeth out, I ended up with a dry socket. I don’t like to be a baby, and wasn’t sure if what I was experiencing was normal or not, so I waited a few days before going back to my dentist. By then the pain was excruciating and radiated down into my arm. My dentist to a long strip of cloth, soaked it in clove oil and SHOVED it down into that dry socket. It hurt horribly and I had to go back every morning for five days so that he could pull the old one out and push a new one in there. The second day wasn’t nearly as bad and by the 5th day, it was all healed up and the pain was gone.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    September 30, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Fascinating, Tipper! Can you imagine the desperation to even consider some of the more unorthodox methods? I’ve known that feeling with a bad tooth ache! The closest I’ve come to any of those listed is the hydrogen peroxide, then the dentist!
    There is a time! Wooohooo! Go girls! :))

  • Reply
    September 30, 2009 at 9:45 am

    “always cut your fingernails on Friday
    never cut your fingernails on Friday”
    This is my favorite. lol
    I can’t remember any home remedies for a toothache or anything else.

  • Reply
    fishing guy
    September 30, 2009 at 9:25 am

    Tipper: I have found that is is hard to decide what is wrong with a tooth. It is best to let a trained proffesional look at your tooth and decide what to do.

  • Reply
    My Carolina Kitchen
    September 30, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Oh my gosh – carry a hogs head bone. These are fascinating. It’s wonderful that you are writing about it. It’s the kind of information that will disappear one day if someone doesn’t record it. I’m thinking you should write a book Tipper.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    September 29, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    I don’t even want to talk about it….too many root canals and too many failed root canals here at this house.
    Ummmm….Tipper….cow manure isn’t listed under “crazy”????
    And one more time….please be sure and tell Pap that his music is soothing to my soul on this weary nights. So authentic.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Well, Tipper, I don’t know if I want to try any of your remedies or not. 🙂 The only one I ever heard of was laying an aspirin on the infected tooth to dissolve.

  • Reply
    Shirley bullock
    September 29, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    This is too funny I let a tooth go for over six weeks and Friday I had enough and ended up going to an oral surgeon….seems the tooth had given up the ghost a long time ago and was haunting me.
    the manure thing isn’t so unusual in ancient Egypt they used croc a dile (spelling) dung for birth control. I know it had to work. The opposite sex wouldn’t want anything do do with you after using that smelly stuff! lol

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    In my mother’s family they used kerosene to cure other things so they probably used it for tooth aches too. I do believe some of these cures sound worse than the tooth ache!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    I will remember Pap’s remedy–and the one involving a bit of alcohol. Anything to ease the pain.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    A lot of these remedies were shared/inflicted upon us as kids. Chuckle …
    Have a lovely autumn week. TTFN ~Marydon

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I have used the clove oil once and it did help slightly. Those crazy ones made me laugh…

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    What a coincidence, I am suffering from a bad toothache as I type. My Grandmother was over yesterday and told me to rinse the cavity with Lysol..but be sure not to swallow it because it’s poison! That’s one home remedy that I won’t be trying! Sorry Grandma.

  • Reply
    Amy - parkcitygirl
    September 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Ack! those remedies are hilarious! I’ve never really heard of any of them . . . fun post Tipper!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    You forgot about the village blacksmith. Here is what I found:The blacksmith made and fixed tools, pots, and other useful items. These items were made out of iron. Blacksmiths needed many tools in order to hold and mold the hot metal they used to work with. The blacksmith would work in a large room with a forge which was a big fireplace. In the middle of the room there was a heavy block of metal called an anvil. The blacksmith would use it to hold the hot metal while he shaped it into a tool or a cooking utensil. Every settlement had a blacksmith because he was a very useful member. The blacksmith was also a dentist and he had only one cure for a toothache. He pulled out the tooth that hurt.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I can’t say that I have ever really tried any of these…however, years ago when I had my wisdom teeth removed the sockets became dry. Each morning, for a week, I went to the dentist and they packed the sockets with a strip that had clove oil on it. I am not kidding. It left a terrible taste in my mouth and made part of my tongue numb and the hygenist told me it was clove oil. It left quite an impression on me, that is for sure.

  • Reply
    Nancy M.
    September 29, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Wow! Those are some crazy remedies! I’ve never heard of most of them and a lot of them I’d be afraid to try, lol! But, thanks for the list, just in case!
    I posted my results for the corn experiment on my blog.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 11:47 am

    My Papaw always said to wait until the signs were in the feet to pull a tooth or it would bleed a lot.
    Also my baby sister was cured of asthma when her grandmother snipped a bit of her hair and put it just above her head on a tree, saying when she grew past that hair she would be past the asthma, so I guess that cure works for more than just teeth…LOL!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I was surprised the cow manure in the cavity was followed by “now the crazy ones” until I read what the crazy ones were. CRAZY. I like your posts about the olden days=]. I have tried the peroxide swish and thought it worked pretty well.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Here in East Tx. there’s a tree we call The Tickled Tongue. Have no idea the true name but it has thorns all over the trunk & limbs. Cut off a small piece of bark then use a knife to scoop out the inner part & put it in your mouth to chew on. Can also boil it to make a mouthwash . It helps to numb the toothache.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I got desperate enough with a sore throat once to gargle with hydrogen peroxide, it’s hideous stuff but does help.
    Had a reprint of a Victorian help manual once that give directions on how to melt nickle and fill a cavity. . . yii. . .

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    September 29, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Those are all new to me!
    I do use oregano oil to nip a tooth infection in the bud. I have the worst teeth in the world. Well, my daughter may take that title from me as her molars have come in WITHOUT enamel. I have had several tooth infections that can be quite painful. A friend told me about oregano oil and I have been using it ever since. If I ever feel that little twinge like something might be coming on, I drop a couple of drops on my tooth until I can’t stand it anymore (it’s a strong taste), then I swish water in my mouth for a minute and swallow. I understand the oil is also good for candida, so I’m killing two bugs with one stone!
    I think I just found my next Tuesday’s Tip. Thanks, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Matthew Burns
    September 29, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I agree with you, toothache is one of the worst pains that a person can have. My Grandmaw Mary, who as you know, was a walking encyclopedia od mountain cures, had several ways to stop a toothache, and it depended on the type of toothache pain that you had which method she used.
    The worst type of “cure” was for an abscessed tooth or swelling around the tooth. For that she used an cure that, honestly, most people preferred to go out to the barn and have someone pull the tooth with a pair of pliers. My Dad is the go-to man these days for pulling teeth with pliers. He uses needle nose pliers and hasn’t broken off a tooth yet. But, back to Grandmaw’s cure…it makes me hurt just to recall it…she used a sterilized sewing needle (by holding it over a flame)and ran it around the whole tooth until the gum started to bleed, then she took a piece of thread and wrapped it around the base of the tooth, soaking it in the blood. She then took the bloody thread and set it aside on a little saucer. She’d then mix some vinegar and flour until it was a paste and put this mixture in a piece of clean cloth (she used cotton fabric scraps). Then she’d take the cloth outside and using the bloody thread, would tie it around a small apple tree root that she’d uncover by digging a small hole by the base of the tree. She’d always make sure that the bloody thread was tied on top of the cloth and she would always make sure it was completely buried with fresh dirt. She said this buried the pain. Somehow, it always worked within a day but the whole running the needle around the tooth to get it to bleed was the killer! I don’t know how old the cure was, or where it came from, but a person just doesn’t forget about something like that. I don’t recall if she said any words over it, she used alot of faith healing so it is possible that she did.
    Also, if it was a nagging toothache, she would put an aspirin on the tooth and would let it dissolve right on it. This would dull the pain, but Lordy have you ever tasted a dissolved aspirin.
    Also, if it was a sharp toothache pain that you’ve had for a few days, she would send someone out to catch a big bumblebee. She tell us to take care that it not sting us. When one was caught, she’d put the bumblebee in a pillow case and the person with the toothache would stick the bottom of their bare foot into the top of the pillowcase, being careful that the bumblebee didn’t escape. Granny would then slap at the pillowcase to make the bumblebee mad (which it usually was already) and it would sting the person on the sole of the foot. I don’t know if it’s because the sting was worse than the toothache, or if it actually worked as a cure, but the toothache would go away. Granny did tell us that alot of people didn’t put the bumblebee in the pillowcase and just held it up to the bare foot, but she found it was easier to do the pillowcase thing to ensure that only the person with the toothache got stung.
    She also used the clove oil remedy that you mentioned.
    I’ll do the aspirin trick still, but I far prefer to just call my dentist whenever I need some help. And up until now, I’ve never had to resort to my Dad’s needle nose pliers!

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Now those were some weird remedies to say the least. But, I am sure most of them probably worked in one way or another.
    Interesting information, thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    September 29, 2009 at 9:07 am

    Cow manure, spider webs, kerosene….???? No way!
    Aspirin works best for me.
    They say there is a nerve in your hand just below the thumb that you can massage and it will make a toothache go away.
    I never did find the nerve!!

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