Oregon Grape for Toothaches: A Clinical Memoir

Note: The Clinic Memoirs are based on real experiences from Occupy Medical clinic, a free, integrated health clinic that serves patients primarily, but not exclusively, in Lane County, Oregon since 2011. The names of the patients and a few personal details are changed to protect patient identity.

Although the clinic that I volunteer with focuses on the medical aspect of healthcare, there is a dire need for dental service in our community. Much of the water in the west coast cities is not fluoridated and the results are startling. Our clinic allied with two other service organizations to offer a handful of free dental extraction clinics every year. We worked together as a team with a volunteer dentist and two volunteer hygienists to pull teeth beyond saving for free. We asked patients to show up at Occupy Medical for an exam and a consultation.

When Ginny received her exam, she had to fight back tears. The infection in her teeth was so severe it pained her to even open her mouth. She had suffered for a few years with this infection and was used to being brave. Our hygienist pulled me aside.

“The doctor is writing her a prescription for the infection but she is really hurting. Is there something you can do too until she can get to a pharmacy? Something topical? She is taking echinacea so she likes herbs. She has been using clove oil but the skin is so raw in her mouth, it burns now.”

I had a compound just for this purpose in my herbal supply cabinet. I sat down with Ginny who was holding her jaw miserably. I introduced myself and handed her the bottle of tincture.

“This is a mouth rinse you may use if you want. It has Oregon Grape and spilanthes in it. Oregon Grape will help with the infection and inflammation. You may use it as a mouth rinse after your extraction to prevent dry socket. It will not counteract the effects of the antibiotic the doctor is giving you. The Spilanthes is also called toothache plant, it will help by numbing the gums and working with Oregon Grape as an antimicrobial. Just put 1 ml (which is marked on the dropper) in a bit of water, swish until you feel the tingling and swallow. You can spit it out if you prefer. Do you have any questions?”

Ginny looked at me quietly for a minute. She turned the bottle around in her hand. I just waited.

“Can I use it now?”

“Absolutely! Let me get you some water.”

The following Saturday was the extraction clinic. Ginny showed up with a friend for support. I was there to provide patients any assistance from our donations: extra gauze, saline rinse and, of course, a few bottles of Oregon Grape/Spilanthes tincture combo.

Ginny’s friend sat with me as we waited for her to finish her appointment. We chatted about the clinic and our lives in Lane County. Her friend gave me a curious look.

“You’re the herb lady, right? You gave Ginny that bottle of mouth rinse?”

“Yup. That’s me. Is it helping her?”

“Helping her? That stuff is great. I used it on my own tooth. I got a cracked molar I can’t get fixed until next month. She shared some with me. Do you have any more?”

I smiled and nodded. Good thing I brought extra bottles.

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