I guess part of the issue here is what “alternative medicine” really means. Is it any kind of care that doesn’t involve drugs or surgery? That’s what alt med folks would like you to think. They claim nutrition, exercise, and pretty much any non-pharmacological or surgical therapy as “alternative.” But, as usual, reality is more complex than that.
Alternative medicine is a label attached to a diverse, and often mutually incompatible, collection of practices, but there are some common philosophical foundations shared by many of them. Most are vitalistic. Most accept a post-modernist view that all epistemology is ultimately culturally relative and any claim to one model being more true than another is not only unjustified but probably motivated by a desire to preserve a certain kind of social and economic order. Personal experience and tradition are counted more important than scientific research in evaluating the worth of practices, though positive studies are still welcomed as a marketing tool. The appeal to nature fallacy is widely accepted, and there is deep suspicion about the safety and effectiveness of conventional or technological interventions. (there are other such themes)
So is sucking on a clove to relieve dental pain “alternative medicine?” I guess it depends on how one views and justifies it. If one chooses the remedy because it is “natural” and thus must be safe; if one presumes that it can be claimed to “work” because one’s pain went away after trying it and lots of other people hink it works; if one is convinced pharmaceutical companies and the “disease industry” are actively suppressing the truth about it; and if one is willing to ignore any scientific evidence against the safety and efficacy of the practice, then it is alternative medicine.
If, however, one considers it plausible that part of a plant might contain chemical with analgesic properties and one is interested in whether there is any experimental evidence to suggest this idea is actually true*, and if one is willing to consider that despite being a plant instead of a drug the practice might have risks as well as benefits#, then using clove for dental pain isn’t alternative medicine at all, it’s just another potential way to approach a clinical problem.
The “alternativeness” of alt med has more to do with philosophy, epistemology, politics, and other ideological factors than with the actual practices themselves.
*J Dent. 2006 Nov;34(10):747-50. Epub 2006 Mar 13.
The effect of clove and benzocaine versus placebo as topical anesthetics.
Alqareer A, Alyahya A, Andersson L.
The purpose of this study was to examine whether the natural herb clove can replace benzocaine as a topical anesthetic.
Topical agents were applied to the maxillary canine buccal mucosa of 73 adult volunteers. Four substances were tested in the study: (1) homemade clove gel, (2) benzocaine 20% gel, (3) placebo that resembles clove and (4) a placebo that resembled benzocaine. After 5 min of material application in a randomized, subject-blinded manner, each participant received two needle sticks. Pain response was registered using a 100 mm visual analogue pain scale.
Both clove and benzocaine gels had significantly lower mean pain scores than placebos (p=0.005). No significant difference was observed between clove and benzocaine regarding pain scores.
Clove gel might possess a potential to replace benzocaine as a topical agent before needle insertion.
#Contact allergy to essential oils: current patch test results (2000-2008) from the Information Network of Departments of Dermatology (IVDK).
Uter W, Schmidt E, Geier J, Lessmann H, Schnuch A, Frosch P.
Essential oils are used in perfumery and in products for aromatherapy or balneotherapy. Previous studies have shown some to be important contact sensitizers. A practical diagnostic approach, based on the results of a large, central European network and other evidence, is needed.
Data of the Information Network of Departments of Dermatology (IVDK; http://www.ivdk.org) on all patients patch tested between January 2000 and December 2008 with essential oils were retrospectively analysed.
15 682 patients of 84 716 consulting in the period had been tested with at least one essential oil, and 637 reacted positively to at least one of the essential oils, most commonly to ylang-ylang oil (I and II) (3.1% as weighted mean of positive tests in special series and consecutive testing), lemongrass oil (1.8%), jasmine absolute (1.6%), sandalwood oil and clove oil (1.5% each). Cross-reactivity between distillate and main allergen, if available, was marked.
Patch testing the important essential oils should be considered in patients with a suggestive history. Additionally, culprit products brought in by the patient should be tested, closing a diagnostic gap by (i) including those other essential oils not included in the commercial test series and (ii) providing a means of testing with the oxidized substances to which the patient had actually been exposed.