If you’re suffering from a toothache, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen can help provide some relief. But how much ibuprofen is safe and effective? Here’s a look at some general guidelines on using ibuprofen for tooth pain.
For adults, the recommended dose of ibuprofen for tooth pain is 200-400 mg every 4-6 hours as needed. The maximum daily dose is 1200 mg. For children older than 6 months, the dose is 5-10 mg per kg of body weight every 6-8 hours. Always follow instructions on the bottle and talk to your dentist or doctor if pain persists.
How ibuprofen works
Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that works by blocking the production of prostaglandins – chemicals in the body that promote pain and inflammation. By reducing prostaglandins around an infected or damaged tooth, ibuprofen can ease discomfort and sensitivity.
Ibuprofen also has analgesic effects, meaning it inhibits pain signals in the central nervous system. The combination of anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic (fever-reducing) benefits make ibuprofen well-suited for relieving toothache pain.
Recommended ibuprofen dosage for adults
The recommended dose of ibuprofen for adults experiencing tooth pain is:
- 200-400 mg every 4-6 hours as needed
- Maximum daily dose is 1200 mg
This dosage information generally applies to healthy adults under age 65. The exact appropriate ibuprofen dose can vary based on factors like age, weight, and medical conditions.
For example, adults over age 65 may need a lower dose like 200-300 mg every 4-6 hours. Check with your dentist or doctor if you are unsure what ibuprofen dosage is suitable for you.
200 mg ibuprofen tablets
With 200 mg tablets, the typical ibuprofen dosage for adults is:
- 1-2 tablets every 4-6 hours as needed
- Do not exceed 6 tablets (1200 mg) in 24 hours
400 mg ibuprofen tablets
With 400 mg tablets, the recommended dosage is:
- 1 tablet every 4-6 hours as needed
- Do not exceed 3 tablets (1200 mg) in 24 hours
600 mg and 800 mg tablets
Some stores also sell 600 mg and 800 mg ibuprofen tablets. It’s best to avoid these higher doses. Stick to 200-400 mg tablets and adjust the quantity you take based on the dosage guidelines above.
Ibuprofen dosage for children
For children 6 months and older, the recommended ibuprofen dosage for tooth pain is:
- 5-10 mg per kg of body weight every 6-8 hours as needed
- Max single dose is 400 mg
- Max daily dose is 40 mg/kg
So if a child weighs 20 kg (44 pounds), their dose would be 100-200 mg every 6-8 hours as needed, up to 800 mg per day. Carefully read dosing instructions on children’s ibuprofen products as concentrations can vary.
Ibuprofen is not approved for children under 6 months. Acetaminophen can be used, but consult your pediatrician first.
How long does it take for ibuprofen to work?
Ibuprofen generally starts working within 30-60 minutes after taking a dose. The pain-relieving effects tend to peak within 1-2 hours.
However, some people may not feel the full effects for 2 hours or more, especially if taking ibuprofen with food. The anti-inflammatory benefits build up over regular use, so it may take a couple doses to maximize benefits.
How long does ibuprofen last?
The pain-relieving effects of ibuprofen typically last 4-6 hours. Some people get 6-8 hours of relief. This is why it’s recommended to take ibuprofen every 4-6 hours for ongoing toothache symptoms.
Ibuprofen’s anti-inflammatory effects can last longer, especially if you take it around the clock. But for controlling pain, the effects wear off after several hours. Reapply as directed on the bottle.
Tips for taking ibuprofen for toothaches
Here are some tips on using ibuprofen safely and effectively to manage tooth pain:
- Take it with food or milk to avoid stomach upset
- Allow 30-60 minutes for it to kick in before taking more
- Measure doses carefully with the dosing cup or dropper
- Avoid alcoholic beverages when using ibuprofen
- Stay hydrated and alert your dentist if symptoms persist more than 2-3 days
- Call your dentist right away if pain seems severe or you develop swelling
- Don’t double up doses or combine ibuprofen with other NSAID meds
Risks and precautions with ibuprofen
When used as directed, ibuprofen is generally safe for temporary pain relief. However, there are some risks and considerations to keep in mind:
- Stomach irritation – Ibuprofen can cause nausea, heartburn, ulcers and stomach bleeding in some people, especially with long-term use.
- Kidney problems – High doses of ibuprofen can worsen kidney disease and cause acute kidney injury in some cases.
- Blood clots – There is a small increased risk of stroke and heart attack, particularly with long-term high-dose use.
- Asthma flare-ups – People with asthma or related allergies may experience worsening symptoms when taking ibuprofen.
- Avoid alcohol – Consuming 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day while taking ibuprofen increases the risk of stomach bleeding.
Talk to your dentist or doctor before taking ibuprofen if you have kidney/liver disease, heart disease, hypertension, or a history of stomach ulcers or bleeding. Use the lowest effective dose and avoid long-term daily use when possible.
When to avoid ibuprofen
Certain people should avoid using ibuprofen or use it cautiously. This includes:
- Children under 6 months old
- People with active stomach ulcers or bleeding disorders
- Those allergic to ibuprofen, aspirin, or other NSAIDs
- People taking blood thinners or steroid medications
- Those with severe liver or kidney disease
- Women who are pregnant (especially late pregnancy)
Talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen if any of the above applies. They can help assess the risks and benefits and recommend safer pain medication if needed.
Ibuprofen is not your only option for relieving toothache discomfort. Some other OTC pain relievers include:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – Typically safe at lower doses but can cause liver injury at high doses or with alcohol use.
- Aspirin – Effective for pain and inflammation but can increase bleeding risk.
- Naproxen (Aleve) – An NSAID similar to ibuprofen but lasts a little longer (8-12 hours).
Your dentist may also prescribe stronger pain relievers for severe toothaches, such as codeine, hydrocodone, or tramadol. Opioid medications carry greater risks of side effects and dependence.
When to see a dentist for tooth pain
While OTC painkillers can provide temporary relief, they won’t treat the underlying cause of a toothache. It’s important to follow up with your dentist if you experience:
- Severe, debilitating tooth pain
- Swelling in your face or gums
- Tooth sensitivity or pain that lasts more than 1-2 days
- Fever, ear pain, or sinus pain along with the toothache
These can be signs of a dental abscess, infection, fractured tooth, or other issues needing urgent dental care. Getting treatment can prevent complications and help resolve tooth pain.
Home remedies for tooth pain
Some home remedies may also help temporarily alleviate toothache discomfort while you wait to see a dentist:
- Salt water rinse – Mix 1/2 tsp salt in 8 oz warm water and rinse your mouth.
- Cold compress – Apply an ice pack or cold cloth to the cheek near the painful tooth.
- Dental wax – Coat the top of the aching tooth with dental wax to protect it.
- Clove oil – Apply diluted clove oil to the painful area for numbing.
- Painkilling gels – Products like Orajel can provide direct pain relief.
Use home remedies sparingly and see a dentist promptly if tooth pain persists or worsens. Avoid placing aspirin directly on the gums or teeth as this can cause chemical burns.
When to seek emergency dental care
In some cases, toothaches may require emergency dental treatment. Seek help immediately if you have:
- Excruciating, throbbing tooth pain
- Facial swelling extending to eye or neck area
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Numbness in the face or mouth
- Knocked-out tooth or severe trauma to the mouth
These severe symptoms can arise from dental infections, injuries, or abscesses extending deep into tooth roots and jaw tissue. They require urgent care to prevent complications like tooth loss or spreading infection.
Ibuprofen can safely provide short-term relief for mild to moderate toothache pain when taken as directed. Adults can typically take 200-400 mg every 4-6 hours, not exceeding 1200mg per day. Provide 5-10 mg/kg for children 6 months and older. Combining ibuprofen with other home remedies and dental treatment can help manage a toothache.
However, see a dentist right away if pain seems severe or persists more than 1-2 days. Your dentist can diagnose the source of tooth pain and provide appropriate long-term treatment for relief.