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Mixture of alum, potash, pepper no cure for toothache – could damage teeth

A Facebook post shared in Nigeria in September 2020 suggests users treat toothache with a mixture of chemicals and ingredients commonly found in the home.  

It reads: “Get some alum, some potash, a spoon of salt, native pepper. Grind them together put small of it to the affected teeth and wash your mouth with lime water after five minutes.

Alum can mean any of a group of chemical compounds, but usually refers to potassium alum, also known as aluminium potassium sulfate. It is used for pickling foods and in a number of other processes, such as leather tanning, and is an ingredient of baking powder. 

Potash also refers to a variety of potassium compounds, though usually potassium carbonate. It is mostly used as a plant fertiliser.  

A number of Facebook users asked in the comments to the post what was meant by “native pepper” and while no definitive answer was given, it seems to refer to a small spicy chili pepper. 

Could this potent-sounding mixture treat toothache? We investigated.

Visit dentist regularly

We asked Alice Umweni, professor of dentistry at the University of Benin in southern Nigeria, if people should follow the advice in the Facebook post.

“I do not have confidence in the mixture. Potash, for example, is very corrosive and is likely to remove the protective enamel of the tooth. This could destroy nerves and make the teeth very vulnerable to stains and other problems,” she said.

She explained that treatment for toothache varies because it could be a sign something might be wrong with the gums or the teeth. The cause of the pain must be known before any specific treatment can be prescribed

She advised people to visit the dentist at least twice a year, whether they have toothache or not, so problems could be identified early on before they led to pain. – Catherine Olorunfemi


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