Emergency Toothache Relief

NEED A DENTIST? ZOCDOC  WILL HELP YOU FIND ONE IN YOUR AREA

What Causes a Toothache?

Toothaches are a common dental condition. They can cause minor to severe tooth pain, depending on the underlying cause. When you have a toothache, you will likely experience intense pain coming from the affected tooth. A toothache usually develops suddenly and can be caused by: 

  • A cavity
  • An infection (such as an infected wisdom tooth)
  • Tooth irritation
  • A dental abscess
  • A tooth fracture
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Gum disease  
  • Trauma
  • Food caught between or under teeth

In some cases, a toothache can be attributed to:

  • Damaged or poorly placed dental restorations (crowns, implants, bridges, and fillings)
  • A canker sore
  • A cold sore
  • Gum recession
  • Enamel erosion
  • A sinus infection
  • An earache commonly causes a toothache (and vice versa)
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD)
  • Pregnancy (due to hormonal changes, which can lead to tooth pain) 
  • Mouth breathing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart problems or a heart attack (rare)

If you have a toothache, you should elevate your head, use extra pillows while sleeping, and be careful when eating hard or crunchy foods. You can also take over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for temporary pain relief. Do not smoke, use sharp or pointed instruments in your mouth, or drink alcohol. This can make the toothache worse. However, you can continue brushing and flossing normally until you make an appointment with your dentist. 

When to See a Dentist for Emergency Toothache Relief

A toothache is considered a dental emergency if:

  • It lasts longer than a few days
  • It becomes more severe over time 
  • There is inflammation, swelling, or bleeding around the tooth that is causing pain in the jaw, ear, or cheek
  • You also have a fever or earache

If a toothache is left untreated, it could lead to a more serious infection. For example, if a dental abscess causes a toothache, not receiving immediate treatment could result in the infection spreading somewhere else in your body. Any visible gum swelling, whether it causes pain or not, could also be dangerous, and you should seek emergency dental care.

An abscess is a localized infection that results in a collection of pus and forms due to a bacterial infection. The primary cause of a dental abscess is due to plaque buildup and neglected dental care. Other risk factors of untreated abscesses include tooth loss, bone infections, sinus infections, blood infections, or a brain abscess (rare). 

A dental abscess will not go away on its own without treatment. Your dentist must drain it and/or extract the tooth that is causing the infection. Without an extraction of an infected tooth, your infection cannot resolve. Left untreated, there is a risk of it spreading to another area of your body (e.g., the head, neck, jaw, bloodstream, or brain). It can also cause sepsis or even death.

Toothaches caused by a cavity usually start with mild discomfort. Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet substances signals the start of decay. This is when seeking immediate dental treatment is critical.

Can I Go to the Emergency Room for a Toothache?

It is best to visit an emergency dentist for a severe toothache, rather than an emergency room. ER doctors do not have the right equipment to treat and diagnose dental conditions. They also do not have dental X-rays, which are used to assess the damage. The only thing an ER doctor can do for a toothache is prescribe pain medications. They will tell you to visit a dentist or oral surgeon as soon as you can. 

Emergency Toothache Relief: Professional Dental Treatment

Depending on the toothache’s cause, your dentist may recommend one of the following treatments:

  • A cavity filling — if the toothache is caused by untreated tooth decay, you’ll likely need a cavity filling to prevent the cavity from progressing further. 
  • Other dental restorations — if the toothache is caused by a large cavity, gum disease, an infection, or trauma, your dentist will take an X-ray. If the damage is severe, a dental crown, implant, or inlay may be the only way to save the tooth.
  • Tooth extraction — a tooth requires surgical extraction if the cavity is severe and has spread to its root. An artificial dental implant will be placed afterward.  
  • Abscess draining — toothaches caused by dental abscesses require immediate drainage (if the abscess is treated early and hasn’t progressed). 
  • Root canal treatment — this procedure is typically necessary when a tooth is heavily decayed, and the bacteria has spread to the dental pulp and tooth root. A root canal is also necessary if there is an abscess at the root of the tooth (periapical abscess). This treatment removes the infected dental pulp in the tooth’s root and relieves the pain. The tooth is then restored with a dental crown.
  • Mouthguard — if your teeth are worn down due to excessive teeth grinding (bruxism), toothaches and sensitivity can develop. If this is the case, your doctor will recommend an occlusal splint. These mouthguards are worn while you sleep to prevent enamel wear. 
  • TMJ treatment — If you have TMJ symptoms, you may need a night guard or other remedies like physical therapy, medication, or Botox to help relieve symptoms.

Emergency Toothache Relief: Temporary Home Remedies

You should visit your dentist if you have a toothache that gets worse over the course of a few days or is related to an existing dental condition. However, there are a few home remedies you can try to relieve pain while you wait for your appointment. All of these remedies are temporary solutions. They should never replace professional dental treatment: 

1. Best Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers for Toothaches

The best OTC pain relievers for a toothache include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Aspirin (Bayer)

You can buy all of these medications without a prescription. They all provide short-term pain relief. Make sure you follow the instructions on the label and do not take more than the recommended daily dose. 

2. OTC Toothache Medications (Gels or Drops)

There are a few over-the-counter ointments available that are designed specifically to relieve toothaches. Orajel™ Severe Toothache & Gum Relief Plus Triple Medicated Gel is the most commonly used ointment for oral pain. Keep in mind that these products only provide temporary relief. Persistent, worsening, or frequent tooth pain requires a dentist visit. 

3. Salt Water Rinse

Salt water is an all-natural antibacterial agent. Rinsing the mouth with salt water can help reduce pain, inflammation, and prevent oral infections. To make the rinse, combine 8 ounces of warm water with a half teaspoon of salt. Swish the mixture around in your mouth for at least 30 seconds and then spit it out. 

4. Baking Soda Paste

Bacteria are not able to live in the same environment as baking soda. It also neutralizes acidic conditions. You can make a baking soda paste by mixing the powder with a small amount of water. Then gently rub the paste on your gums around the affected area. 

5. Garlic

Sliced, crushed, chopped, or chewed garlic releases an antimicrobial and antibacterial compound (allicin) that temporarily reduces toothache pain. At-home garlic treatment should never replace a trip to the dentist.

6. Apply a Cold Compress

If your face and jaw are swollen, an ice pack can help reduce the swelling. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth and then apply it to the affected area for at least 20 minutes. You can do this a few times each day, especially right before bed. 

7. Clove Oil

An active compound found in cloves is eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory and numbing properties. According to research, applying eugenol to the gums can reduce pain, discomfort, and swelling. To make this treatment, soak ground cloves in water and make a paste. Then apply the oil to the affected tooth.

8. Peppermint Tea Bags

Like cloves, peppermint tea can also help reduce toothache discomfort because it has numbing properties. Soak a tea bag and then put it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Once it is cold enough, hold it directly next to the throbbing tooth for at least 20 minutes.

Resources

“7 Tips to Get Emergency Toothache Relief: Guardian Direct.” GuardianDirect.com, 22 Aug. 1970, www.guardiandirect.com/resources/articles/7-tips-get-emergency-toothache-relief.

“Abscessed Teeth.” American Association of Endodontists, https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/abscessed-teeth/.

NHS Choices, NHS, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dental-abscess/.

Hupp, James R., and Elie M. Ferneini. Head, Neck, and Orofacial Infections: an Interdisciplinary Approach. Elsevier, 2016.

Jesudasan, James Solomon et al. “Effectiveness of 0.2% chlorhexidine gel and a eugenol-based paste on postoperative alveolar osteitis in patients having third molars extracted: a randomised controlled clinical trial.” The British journal of oral & maxillofacial surgery vol. 53,9 (2015): 826-30. doi:10.1016/j.bjoms.2015.06.022

“The Truth Behind a Toothache.” Https://Www.deltadental.com, https://www.deltadental.com/us/en/protect-my-smile/oral-health-conditions/toothaches/the-truth-behind-a-toothache.html.

“Toothaches: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003067.htm.

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