The agony of toothache can leave you willing to go to the ends of the earth in search of a cure.
But you may need to look no further than the depths of the rainforest.
A rare red and yellow plant from the Amazon could offer more effective pain relief than existing drugs and treatments, scientists have claimed.
The ancient herbal remedy is so potent that it might even replace uncomfortable anaesthetic injections for certain procedures – and provide a natural remedy for teething babies.
Cambridge University anthropologist Dr Francoise Barbira Freedman came across the budded plant more than 30 years ago when living with a secretive Peruvian tribe known for practising shamanism.
During her trip she suffered severe pain in her wisdom teeth. She was given the remedy by the tribe’s medicine men and the discomfort ‘went away immediately’.
Years later, she was asked to provide Cambridge with some examples of rainforest remedies, and added the Acmella oleracea plant to the list.
Describing the inclusion as an ‘afterthought’, she said: ‘It was added to the bottom of the list, but somehow the list got reversed, and it was the first one tested back in the UK. It was immediately successful and we’ve never looked back.’
Using extracts from the plant, the researchers have developed a gel which blocks the pain receptors found in nerve endings – and could be on the market in only two years’ time.
In early trials, it helped relieve pain during removal of teeth that were impacted, or stuck below the gum line.
The gel was also considered more efficient than the standard anaesthetic used when patients with gum disease need pain relief for scaling and polishing. The effects lasted longer, and patients were more likely to attend follow-up appointments.
In informal tests carried out by a Peruvian dentist, the plant extract also helped treat mouth ulcers and ease pain caused by dentures, braces, gum disease and having teeth removed. And to top it off, there are no known side-effects.
Dr Freedman, who plans to share any profits from the sale of the gel with the Keshwa Lamas community in Peru, said: ‘This treatment for toothache means we could be looking at the end of some injections in the dentist’s surgery.
‘We’ve had really clear results from tests so far, particularly for procedures such as scaling and polishing, and there are many other potential applications.’
These range from soothing the pain of teething in babies to relieving irritable bowel syndrome.
The researcher, who is about to make another visit to the rainforest community, went on: ‘We think people prefer to use natural products and this is particularly the case for baby teething, for which, to my knowledge, there is no clinically tested natural alternative.’
Researchers at Ampika, the company founded by Dr Freedman to commercialise the gel, plan to publish the trial results in an international dental journal and conduct further tests in several countries.
They also want to refine the formula to develop a higher strength and longer-lasting product. …