Updated on February 9, 2024
8 min read

What to Do About Severe Tooth Pain

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Severe tooth pain can have various causes, most of which are serious and require prompt treatment. It’s often the result of an infected or cracked tooth.

A severe toothache is unlikely to go away on its own. In the short-term, it can interfere with sleep and daily activities. Left untreated, it may lead to a spreading infection, tooth loss, or other complications.

You may also notice other symptoms, such as a fever, pus, or pain that spreads to other parts of your jaw or face. Contact your dentist immediately if you have severe tooth pain or pain combined with any of these symptoms.

When to See a Dentist for Severe Tooth Pain

You should contact your dentist if you have persistent tooth pain of any kind. The underlying cause isn’t likely to go away on its own.

If you have tooth pain combined with swelling, fever, or any visible damage to your teeth, make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

When Is Severe Tooth Pain an Emergency?

A dental emergency is a situation that requires immediate care. If your general dentist isn’t available, an emergency dentist or hospital can provide treatment outside of regular hours.

It can be considered a dental emergency if your tooth pain is due to an injury, such as a tooth fracture. When you receive treatment could mean the difference between keeping and losing the tooth.

A dental abscess is also a dental emergency. An abscess is a collection of pus that forms when a tooth is severely infected. Leaving an abscess untreated could lead to life-threatening complications.

Preventing Tooth Pain

You can’t prevent every possible cause of tooth pain. However, you can reduce the likelihood of severe tooth pain by taking care of your teeth and oral health. 

Do the following to keep your teeth healthy and clean:

  • Brush and floss regularly and properly
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash
  • Eat a balanced diet high in nutrients and low in refined sugar
  • Wear a mouthguard if you engage in contact sports

These habits won’t guarantee that you will never have a toothache, but they make most of the causes of toothaches less likely to occur. For example, good oral hygiene will help prevent cavities and gum disease.

How to Relieve Tooth Pain at Home

If you are experiencing severe tooth pain, call your dentist or doctor. 

Once you have received medical advice and made an appointment for treatment, there are several things you can do to alleviate the pain, including:

Pain Medication

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide temporary relief. Be sure to follow the directions on the packaging.

Salt Water Rinse

Mix half a teaspoon of salt with one cup of warm water. Rinsing with this mixture can help:

  • Disinfect your mouth
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Loosen food or other debris stuck between or behind your teeth

Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse

To make a safe hydrogen peroxide rinse, mix 3 percent hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water.

Like a salt water rinse, swishing this mixture can help relieve inflammation and kill bacteria. Be sure to spit it out after rinsing, as hydrogen peroxide isn’t safe to swallow.

Cold Compress

Apply a cold compress (such as a bag of ice wrapped in a towel) to the affected area for 20 minutes. Wait at least an hour before applying again. This reduces pain and swelling by decreasing blood flow in the area.

Peppermint Tea Bags

Peppermint has been shown to potentially help relieve headaches, increase blood flow, and fight bacterial infections.

Soak a tea bag in hot water, then remove it. Allow it to cool down to a comfortable temperature (it should still be warm), and apply it to the area near the affected tooth.

Clove Oil

Clove oil is a traditional pain reliever that also has anti-inflammatory properties.

Mix a couple of drops of clove oil in carrier oil, such as olive or almond oil. You can also use water instead of carrier oil. Once you’ve made the mixture, dab it onto a cotton ball and gently apply it to the infected area.

Causes of Tooth Pain and How They’re Treated

Here are some common causes of tooth pain and how to treat them: 

Tooth Decay (Cavities)

Tooth decay is caused by oral bacteria that feed on the sugar in your diet. These bacteria secrete acids that eat away your enamel and dentin, creating cavities. Depending on where and how deep it is, you may get a toothache from a cavity.

This is because tooth decay can begin to reach the pulp of your tooth, causing pulpitis. The dental pulp is full of nerves and blood vessels, so pulpitis can be extremely painful.  

Treatment

How tooth decay is treated depends on how deep it has spread. Cavities can often be treated with fillings, which replace any decayed dental tissue with an artificial material.

However, if the tooth’s pulp is affected, you may need root canal treatment. This removes the nerves inside the tooth so that the rest of the tooth can be saved.

If neither of these options work, the decayed tooth will have to be extracted.

Dental Abscess

Advanced tooth decay can sometimes cause a buildup of pus in the area, known as a dental abscess.

This is a serious condition that requires immediate attention. The bacteria from an abscess can enter the bloodstream, causing life-threatening sepsis.

Treatment

If the abscess gets treated early on and the infection hasn’t spread, a dentist can drain the abscess. You may then be prescribed antibiotics.

A root canal or tooth extraction will be necessary as the definitive treatment if the infection has spread to the tooth’s pulp and roots.

Tooth Fracture

Cracked teeth can cause severe tooth pain, especially when biting. Teeth can become fractured due to:

  • A mouth injury
  • Chewing hard substances
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)

Teeth can also be weakened over time by age, large fillings, or a medical condition. This can also play a role in tooth fractures.

Treatment

Fractured teeth can be restored with dental crowns or with dental bonding, if the crack is minor. A severely fractured tooth may need a root canal, crown, or have to be extracted.

Gum Disease

Gingivitis or periodontitis (advanced gum disease) can be caused by poor oral hygiene, diet, hormonal changes, smoking, medications, and other health conditions such as diabetes or cancer. 

Gum disease can cause many symptoms, such as severe tooth pain, shrinking gums, bone damage, loose teeth, and/or root cavities.

Treatment

Depending on the severity of your gum disease, the dentist may treat it with medicated mouthwash, antibiotics, or scaling and root planing (deep cleaning).

In severe cases, a patient may need oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Failed Restorations

As fillings age, they become weaker and susceptible to damage. The filling material can break down over months or years of chewing or grinding your teeth. It may pop out, chip, crack, or crumble.

In addition, crowns can become loose or damaged over time. This can allow bacteria to harm the remaining natural tooth, which may result in nerve pain.

Treatment

Your dentist can replace lost or damaged fillings or place a crown on the tooth for better protection. A loose crown can also be replaced. The underlying natural tooth may need a root canal.

Bruxism

Bruxism refers to the habit of grinding your teeth during the day or while asleep. It can cause damage to teeth, as well as put strain on your jaw and facial muscles. Both of these things can cause tooth pain.

Treatment

Treatment for bruxism can include mouthguards, medication, and stress management.

Tooth Eruption or Impacted Tooth

A new tooth growing in can sometimes cause pain. This may affect teething babies, children when they lose their baby teeth, or young adults when they get their wisdom teeth.

Pain is especially likely if the tooth comes in at an angle and can’t erupt properly. Teeth like this are referred to as impacted teeth.

Treatment

If a new tooth causes severe pain, a numbing gel or over-the-counter pain medication may provide relief. If a wisdom tooth is impacted, it may require treatment such as extraction.

Less Common Causes

Other possible reasons for severe tooth or jaw pain include:

  • Sinus infection
  • Food stuck in your teeth or gums
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Nerve damage
  • Oral cancer
  • Psychosomatic issues

Summary

Various conditions can cause severe tooth pain, such as advanced tooth decay, a cracked tooth, or an impacted tooth. The pain may come with other symptoms, such as a fever or visible pus.

Severe tooth pain is usually a sign that you need to see a dentist. It’s unlikely to go away on its own and may get significantly worse. In some cases, it can lead to serious complications, which could be life-threatening.

While waiting to see your dentist, you can use home remedies to relieve your tooth pain. But the underlying causes of severe toothaches should be treated as soon as possible.

Last updated on February 9, 2024
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 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).
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