An Overview of Toothaches
When to Seek Medical Care for a Toothache continued...
Any history of trauma, chest pain, or heart disease, or rashes may suggest causes of pain other than purely dental origin. These symptoms with toothache or jaw pain indicate that you should visit your doctor or a hospital's emergency department.
- High fever or chills: This may indicate a more widespread infection that might require more than antibiotics by mouth.
- Recent head or face injury: If you experience headache, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, or other symptoms that concern you after an injury to your face or mouth, you may have a more serious injury in addition to your dental injury.
- A facial rash associated with a toothache: This condition may improve with medication. The doctor should be able to decide what is appropriate.
- Any jaw pain occurring with chest pain: Although jaw pain is most commonly caused by dental disease, it is sometimes referred pain from other areas. People with heart disease, especially people who have had stents placed, people with diabetes, or those who have had heart surgery may have jaw pain as a symptom of heart attack or angina. If your jaw or tooth pain is associated with lightheadedness, sweating, or shortness of breath, you should see a doctor.
- Trouble swallowing or excessive pain or bleeding from gums: If you have a history of a weakened immune system, diabetes, or steroid use, you are more susceptible to infections. Infections can often be more severe and extensive or caused by unusual organisms. Dental and gum infections in people with these conditions may require more aggressive treatment. An abscess may need draining or IV antibiotics, for example.
Exams and Tests for Toothaches
A medical history and physical exam will usually indicate the appropriate diagnosis for a toothache. Sometimes X-rays called Panorex views (panoramic X-rays of the teeth and jaw) are taken. Occasionally lab evaluation including ECG tracings of the heart will assist the doctor. If the cause is something other than a dental or jaw problem, the doctor may prescribe drugs directed at the problem. If the condition is more severe, the doctor may admit you to the hospital for further care. You may be referred to a dentist for further treatment.
Treating a Toothache at Home
- Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) may be used. Take these as directed on the package and around the clock on a schedule while you arrange a dental appointment.
- Avoid very cold or hot foods because this may make the pain worse.
- Relief may be obtained from biting on a cotton ball soaked in oil of cloves. Oil of cloves is available at most drug stores.
For jaw pain:
- Aspirin may be helpful for problems in the joint of the jaw in adults.
- Acetaminophen (not aspirin) should be used for children and teenagers.
- If pain occurs every time you open your mouth widely, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) may be the source of the pain. Yawning or taking a large bite of food may intensify the pain. An appointment with your doctor or dentist will help to determine the cause.