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:
In some cases, a toothache can be attributed to:
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.
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:
The best OTC pain relievers for a toothache include:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A toothache is considered a dental emergency if:
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.
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.
Depending on the toothache’s cause, your dentist may recommend one of the following treatments:
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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
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