Updated on February 1, 2024
6 min read

How to Relieve Cavity Pain: Home Remedies and Professional Treatment

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What Causes Cavity Pain in Teeth?

Anyone who has experienced pain from tooth decay understands how uncomfortable and stressful it can be. Fortunately, modern dentistry allows dentists to act quickly and restore your oral health to optimal condition.

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Tooth decay is the most common and preventable cause of tooth pain. Poor dental hygiene and the frequent consumption of sugar and carbohydrates cause tooth decay.

However, other causes increase your risk for cavities, including:

  • Eating disorders — Frequent vomiting leads to stomach acid in the mouth that can break down tooth enamel, making it more susceptible to developing cavities.
  • Reflux — Those with gastrointestinal issues can also develop enamel damage from stomach acid.
  • Medications — Daily medications that cause dry mouth decrease the quality and quantity of saliva, a buffer against cavities. 

The tooth decay process begins when bacteria in your mouth use the food debris left behind on your teeth to produce acid. The acid weakens tooth enamel and leads to a small hole in your tooth called a cavity or tooth decay.

The longer decay is left untreated, the more easily it can spread to the tooth’s inner layers. This  is what eventually leads to sensitivity and pain.

What Does a Cavity Feel Like?

Cavities aren’t painful when they are only in the enamel because this part of the tooth has no nerves. Many people are unaware they even have tooth decay at this point. 

This changes as the decay spreads to the dentin layer and pulp of the tooth. The dentin contains tubules that transmit sensation to the pulp, where the tooth’s nerves are.

Symptoms at this stage include:

  • Toothache, which may be severe
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Throbbing pain when you bite down
  • Ear or sinus pain or headaches 
  • Bad breath
  • Holes or spaces in teeth
  • Food getting caught between teeth where there is tooth decay
  • Gum pain or a dental abscess 

If the severe pain in your tooth stops at some point, that may indicate that the nerve has died. A “dead tooth” can lead to severe and life-threatening complications if left untreated.

How to Stop Cavity Pain Temporarily (7 Home Remedies) 

You can temporarily manage tooth decay pain at home if you can’t get an immediate dental appointment. Remember that even if your symptoms subside temporarily, you should always follow up with your dentist for professional treatment so that your symptoms don’t return. 

1. Rinse with Warm Saltwater

Rinsing with warm salt water can help alleviate inflammation because salt is antibacterial. Take a teaspoon of salt and stir it into an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Swish the solution in your mouth for at least 10 seconds before spitting it out.

2. Good At-Home Oral Care

Brushing and flossing can help remove plaque and food debris that can irritate teeth with cavities. Use an anti-sensitivity toothpaste and gently circularly brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Flossing can help get food out from hard-to-reach places.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse

A hydrogen peroxide mouthwash can reduce pain symptoms by reducing inflammation. Always dilute the rinse with at least 50% water by volume, and never swallow it. 

4. Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

You can take Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) for pain relief until you get an appointment with your dentist. Be sure to check with your doctor if they’re okay for you to use, and follow the instructions on the package.

5. Cold Compress

If you are experiencing a toothache, a cold compress can reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling by restricting blood flow. Keep the cold cloth on the side of your face with the toothache for several minutes. Repeat as needed.

6. Clove Oil

People have considered clove oil as a natural remedy for thousands of years. It can temporarily reduce pain and has antibacterial properties. 

Dip a cotton swab in clove oil and wipe over the site of the toothache until it fades. Be careful not to do this too long, as it can cause a chemical burn on your gums. 

7. Garlic

As with clove oil, people also recognize garlic for its medicinal properties. Take a clove of garlic and gently chew it with the affected tooth. Let the clove then rest over the tooth.

How Do Dentists Treat Cavity Pain?

If you have pain-causing tooth decay, your dentist will perform a thorough clinical examination and take a dental radiograph to determine the extent of the rot. Treatment will vary based on the severity of the cavity.

Dental Filling

Tooth decay in the enamel or dentin may require a composite resin or silver amalgam cavity filling to repair the tooth.

Dental Crown

If the tooth decay spreads to a more considerable portion of the tooth, your dentist may recommend a core buildup and crown to help support the tooth.

Root Canal Therapy

When tooth decay spreads to the tooth’s pulp, you will need a root canal to save your tooth and relieve the pain. You will also need a dental crown following the root canal to restore the tooth’s shape and function.

Tooth Extraction

If the decay is so severe that your dentist can’t save your tooth, they may recommend an extraction to prevent continued pain and infection. Your dentist may also suggest a dental implant, bridge, or partial denture to replace the missing tooth

How Long Can You Leave a Cavity Untreated?

Try to get your cavities treated as soon as you or your dentist detect them. Most cases can only improve with professional treatment. Prompt treatment can prevent long-term dental problems that can be more painful and pricier to fix.

Smaller cavities may take a few months to progress and cause a problem. In addition to causing severe pain, the decay can spread to adjacent teeth, requiring extensive treatment. Leaving a cavity untreated can eventually lead to severe and even life-threatening complications.

Cavity and Tooth Decay Complications

Two of the most severe complications of tooth decay are tooth abscess and cellulitis. Both are signs of a severe spreading infection.

An abscess occurs from an accumulation of pus, leading to swelling. Cellulitis refers to facial skin swelling.

If a dental professional doesn’t treat these issues promptly, the infection can spread elsewhere in the body. This spread can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection, meningitis, or brain and spinal cord inflammation.

Cavities and tooth decay can have other complications if left untreated. Some of these include:

  • Damaged or broken teeth
  • Chewing issues
  • Weight loss or nutrition issues from painful or difficult eating or chewing
  • Tooth loss, which may affect your appearance, confidence, and self-esteem

To avoid these risks, contact your dentist immediately if you have severe or recurring tooth pain.


Many people experience pain due to cavities. While cavities aren’t painful at first, they can cause severe pain as the decay spreads further into the tooth.

Untreated cavities can require more extensive treatment, such as extraction of the involved teeth. In some cases, this dental issue can also have life-threatening complications.

To avoid more pain and expenses later on, visit your dentist to treat your cavities as soon as possible. While awaiting treatment, you can also manage your pain with simple home remedies.

Last updated on February 1, 2024
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 1, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Dealing With Tooth Pain.” Journal of American Dental Association, 2019.
  2. Carroll, Patrick. “Quickly and Easily Temporizing A Broken Tooth.” Journal of American Dental Association, 1999.
  3. Koh et al. Managing tooth pain in general practice.” Singapore medical journal vol. 60,5 : 224-228
  4. Timmerman, Aovana, and Peter Parashos. Management of dental pain in primary care.” Australian Prescriber, 2020.
  5. Tooth decay: Overview.” InformedHealth.org, 2020.
  6. Heng, Christine. Tooth Decay Is the Most Prevalent Disease.” Federal Practitioner, 2016.
  7. Sasi et al. “Garlic (Allium sativum L.) Bioactives and Its Role in Alleviating Oral Pathologies.” Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 2021.
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