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Updated on January 20, 2023
6 min read

Toothaches: Causes, Complications & Treatment

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Toothaches occur when you have pain in your teeth and jaw. They can cause mild to severe pain and may be isolated to a specific tooth or affect several teeth.

Minor toothaches can sometimes be treated at home, depending on the cause. A severe toothache can indicate an underlying condition that requires professional treatment.

What Causes a Toothache?

A toothache can result from many dental problems, from temporary gum irritation to something stuck in your teeth.

According to Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth's in-house dentists, "tooth pain may be dull, sharp, throbbing, constant, or spontaneous. It is important to see a dentist to determine the root cause and treatment options."

Common causes of toothaches include:

Tooth Abscess 

These result from a localized gum or nerve infection affecting the surrounding structures of a tooth. They can cause severe throbbing and pain near the infected tooth.

Tooth Decay 

Cavities are one of the most common dental problems. Left untreated, tooth decay can spread closer to the nerves, causing pain and throbbing.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes inflammation in the gingival tissues. It can cause pain and swelling in the gums.

Injury 

An injury to your jaw or mouth can cause pain. If the trauma fractures your tooth, you will most likely have a toothache.

Earache and Sinus Problems 

In some cases, a toothache can be “referred pain,” meaning the pain is coming from somewhere else in the body. Earaches and sinus problems commonly cause toothaches and vice versa.

Wisdom Teeth 

If your wisdom teeth are impacted (coming in sideways), they may push against another tooth, causing toothaches.

Bruxism 

Grinding or clenching your teeth during sleep can cause pain in the teeth and jaw.

Signs and Symptoms of a Toothache

Most people experience mild dental pain or toothaches at some point. If the pain is not severe and doesn’t persist, it is typically nothing to worry about.

Common symptoms of a toothache include:

  • Pain when chewing or biting down
  • Sensitive teeth when drinking hot or cold liquids
  • Trauma or injury to the area
  • Inflammation, bleeding, and swelling around the affected tooth or gums
  • Swollen jaw or cheeks

If your toothache persists for more than a day or two, schedule a visit with your dentist. Seek medical help immediately if your symptoms include difficulty breathing, opening your mouth, and/or swallowing.

Treating a Toothache at Home

Some toothaches may go away on their own, especially if they primarily affect the area around your tooth. Toothaches that stem from a specific tooth or are extremely painful will need timely attention from a dentist.

In the meantime, certain home remedies may provide short-term relief.

Saltwater Rinse

Saltwater is a natural antibacterial agent. Rinsing with saltwater can help reduce inflammation and protect your teeth from infection. 

Combine 8 oz warm water with ½ teaspoon of salt and swish for 30 seconds, and spit.

Over-The-Counter Pain Medication

OTC pain relievers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), Ibuprofen (Advil), and aspirin (Bayer), can provide short-term pain relief. Be sure to follow the instructions found on the label.

Cold Compress

An ice pack can help if your face or jaw is swollen, especially before bed. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth and place it at the site of the swelling for 20 minutes.

Clove Oil (Eugenol)

Eugenol is an active compound in cloves with anti-inflammatory properties.

Research shows that applying eugenol to your gums can help ease pain and swelling.5 Be careful not to leave it on your gums for too long because it can cause a chemical burn. 

Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse

A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution may reduce pain and inflammation. Combine 6% hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water and rinse out your mouth. Be careful not to swallow it.

Other Natural Remedies

You may find relief using other natural home remedies. Applying vanilla extract to the gums around your toothache may numb the pain with its alcohol content.

Some people also press peppermint tea bags onto the affected area. Studies show peppermint has medicinal properties and has been used for centuries to relieve pain.6

Again, be careful not to leave these materials on your gums for too long because they can cause chemical burns. 

Professional Toothache Treatment

Treatment for a toothache depends on how severe it is and what is causing it. For example, common treatment options include:

Fillings

Fillings close the space opened up and infected by cavities. They prevent tooth decay from progressing by stopping bacteria and food particles from entering the cavity. Having your cavity filled can end your tooth pain.

Root Canal

If a toothache occurs after chewing or when pressure is applied, your tooth’s dental pulp may be infected. Root canal treatment removes the infected dental pulp in the teeth' roots and relieves pain associated with the infection.

Other Dental Restorations

A more invasive restoration may be necessary if the underlying cause of your toothache is due to a large cavity, dental trauma, gum disease, or an infection. Dental crowns, implants, and inlays are common options.

Tooth Extraction 

In extreme circumstances, your dentist might recommend extracting a tooth damaged from an injury, disease, or tooth decay. Removing the affected tooth will relieve your pain.

Mouthguard 

If your tooth pain is related to bruxism or grinding your teeth at night, your dentist may recommend a mouthguard to relieve the pain.

How to Prevent Toothaches

To prevent toothaches, practice proper oral hygiene by:

  • Brushing your teeth with fluoridated toothpaste daily
  • Flossing daily
  • Using mouthwash regularly
  • Visiting your dentist for routine check-ups

When to See a Dentist for Tooth Pain

You should see a dentist as soon as possible if you have:

  • A toothache that lasts longer than one or two days
  • Fever
  • Swelling in the mouth, face, or neck
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty opening your mouth 
  • An accompanying earache or headache 

Can You Die From a Toothache?

A toothache itself isn’t fatal. However, an untreated infection in your tooth can spread to your bloodstream. Infection can lead to hospitalization and even death.

Properly diagnosing and treating dental infections is important to prevent them from spreading to the bloodstream.

Summary

A toothache occurs when you have pain in or around your teeth. Many causes contribute to tooth pain, including cavities, injury, temporary gum irritation, and bruxism. 

You can relieve pain from a toothache at home using over-the-counter medications and natural remedies. Treatments such as saltwater rinses and clove oil may provide temporary relief.

Always see your dentist if your toothache persists for more than a day or two or if the pain worsens. They may need to provide treatment in the form of fillings, root canals, or other dental restorations.

Last updated on January 20, 2023
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 20, 2023
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. Abscessed Teeth.” American Association of Endodontists, 2023.
  2. Hollins, Carole.Basic Guide to Dental Procedures.” John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.
  3. Cavities.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.
  4. Toothaches: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2023.
  5. 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 randomized controlled clinical trial.The British journal of oral & maxillofacial surgery vol. 53,9 : 826-30. doi:10.1016/j.bjoms.2015.06.022
  6. Chumpitazi, B., et al. “Review article: the physiological effects and safety of peppermint oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders.” Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, National Library of Medicine, 2018.
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