Aspirin is one of the most widely used medications in the world.  An estimated 40,000 metric tons of aspirin is consumed each year.  In the U.S., aspirin is the most sold over-the-counter medication.

Uses for Aspirin

Aspirin, also known as acetylsalicylic acid [ASA] is commonly used to relieve mild to moderate pain, such as pain associated with headache and menstrual cramps.  Aspirin is often used as an analgesic to relieve minor aches and pains, as an antipyretic to reduce fever, and as an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling.  It is also used in combination with other pain relievers for migraine headaches and prescription medications for relief of moderate to severe pain.

Aspirin has an antiplatelet or anti-clotting effect and is used in long-term, low doses to prevent blood clot formation, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. The usual dose is one ‘baby’ aspirin, 81 mg, taken once a day. Be certain to consult your physician for advice as to whether you can take aspirin safely: not everyone is a candidate for aspirin therapy. 

For emergency treatment, one full strength aspirin [325 mg] is give during or immediately after a heart attack to reduce the risk of another heart attack and the possible death of cardiac tissue.  Higher doses are also used after placement of coronary stents and following some cardiac procedures.  If you have been told to take aspirin, be certain to comply with your treatment recommendations.

Side effect of Aspirin

The main undesirable side effects of aspirin are gastrointestinal ulcers, stomach bleeding, and kidney damage, which are associated with long-term use. Tinnitus [ringing in the ears] can also occur, especially when used in high doses.  Drinking a full glass of water when taking aspirin and/or taking aspirin with food will help prevent stomach ulcers.

Children and teenagers less than 18 years old should not take aspirin if they have chickenpox, flu,  any undiagnosed illness or if they have recently received a vaccine. In these cases, taking aspirin increases the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious illness, causing brain and liver damage. Both chickenpox and the flu can cause headaches, so it is best to use Tylenol for children and not aspirin

History of Aspirin

Aspirin is the oldest member of the class of drugs known as non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]. In Greece during the 4th century BC, Hippocrates used a willow tree bark which contained “salicin,” to ease his father’s pain. Hippocrates, the father of clinical medicine, is known for writing the Hippocratic Oath, an oath traditionally taken by physicians pertaining to the ethical practice of medicine.

 In the 1800s, French and German chemists produced “acetylsalicylic acid,” the main ingredient in today’s aspirin.  By 1899, the drug and dye firm Bayer had named the drug Aspirin and was selling it around the world. 

In countries where Aspirin is a registered trademark owned by Bayer, the generic term is acetylsalicylic acid [ASA].  As part of war reparations specified in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles following Germany’s surrender after World War I, Aspirin lost its status as a registered trademark in France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, where it became a generic name and can be spelled in lower case.  Aspirin remains a registered trademark of Bayer in over 80 countries including Germany, Canada, and Mexico.

Aspirin’s popularity declined after the introduction of acetaminophen [Tylenol] in 1956 and ibuprofen [Advil] in 1969, since both medications have fewer side effects.  But by the 1980s, aspirin’s anti-clotting abilities were established and its use as a preventive treatment for heart attacks and strokes had become prevalent. 

Aspirin for dental pain

Aspirin works well for most low-grade tooth pain. This is a reasonable, short-term treatment.  However, I recommend the use of ibuprofen [Advil] and acetaminophen [Tylenol] in combination for even better short-term dental pain relief.  During a 24-hour period, do not take more than 2400mg of ibuprofen and 3000mg of acetaminophen, the maximum recommended doses per day. 

Aspirin should be swallowed.  Sometimes,  I discover patients who do not swallow an aspirin tablet; but instead, they hold it against the tooth, or they crush it between their teeth and let it sit on the tooth. When I examine the tooth, I can see the result: tooth erosion and damage to the gum.

When aspirin lies against the gum, the acid in the aspirin causes a chemical burn of the tender gum tissue and causes the top layer of the gum to slough off. Underneath is a red ulcer that can cause severe pain and add to the original problem. This may prompt the individual to use even more aspirin, which only makes the condition worse. 

When aspirin comes in contact with a tooth, the acid in aspirin “eats” into the tooth’s enamel, which can expose the tooth to an infection or decay. Once the enamel of a tooth is eaten away, it must be restored with a filling or with a crown.

Dental case

A few years ago, I saw a 10-year-old boy, whose mother had him place aspirin between his teeth for a toothache. When the teeth were examined, the grains of aspirin were wedged into the pits and fissures on the biting surface of his molars and pre-molars. His teeth suffered severe damage beyond the original decay.  Aspirin should not be given to children at all, due to the potential life-threatening effect of causing Reye’s syndrome. Tylenol is the best choice, swallowed.  The boy was placed on antibiotics to reduce the infection and Tylenol for pain.  After fillings, one root canal therapy and one crown, the boy was happily in good health. 

Treatment of dental pain

Though aspirin has been used effectively for centuries for pain relief, the combination of ibuprofen [Advil] and acetaminophen [Tylenol] is presently the recommended treatment for dental pain.  The two medications work differently.  Ibuprofen is a good anti-inflammatory drug when used in high doses and acetaminophen is a good pain reliever.   Tylenol-Advil regime for dental pain:

Tylenol Extra Strength [500 milligrams of acetaminophen] – Take 1 tablet every 4 hours [6 times a day] not to exceed 6 tablets or 3000 milligrams per day.

Advil [200 milligrams of ibuprofen] – Take 2 tablets every 4 hours [6 times a day] not to exceed 12 tablets or 2400 milligrams per day.             

If you are experiencing mouth or tooth pain, please contact your dentist and schedule an appointment.  Medications like aspirin are only a short-term solution.


George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@  Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at 

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