An Overview of Toothaches
Exams and Tests for Toothaches
A thorough medical history and oral exam usually lead to an appropriate diagnosis.
Sometimes, X-rays called periapical and Panorex views (panoramic X-rays of the teeth and jaw) are taken. Rarely, 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 they 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.
Medical Treatment for Toothaches
In most cases, toothaches or jaw pain can be cared for with pain medications and antibiotics. A referral to a dentist for follow-up will usually be arranged. In some cases, the doctor may try an injection around the tooth for pain control. If there is swelling in the gums or face, or you have fever, antibiotics may be prescribed.
- At the dentist's office, fillings, pulling teeth, or other procedures may be performed as required. A tooth extraction will be the most likely procedure with a primary (baby) tooth. On permanent teeth if the problem is severe, root canals (sealing off the root of the tooth) and crown procedures are generally performed.
- An antibiotic will usually be prescribed if a fever or swelling of the jaw is present. Such procedures are generally done in stages, with pain and infection being cared for immediately, and reconstructive procedures being performed at a later time (weeks to months). You will be able to return to work or school while you recover. Dentists and oral surgeons may plan additional procedures at the most appropriate time.
- If causes other than the teeth or jaw are responsible for the pain, management will depend on the condition.