A toothache refers to pain in or around your tooth. This discomfort can range from a minor issue, like gum irritation, to an indication of a larger problem, like tooth decay.
Causes of Tooth Pain
Toothaches are a result of:
- A decayed or broken tooth
- An abscessed tooth
- Infected gums
- A damaged filling
- Motions that wear down your teeth, such as grinding or clenching, or chewing gum
- Tooth removal
Serious tooth pain doesn't resolve on its own and requires a visit to your dentist.
Symptoms of tooth pain vary depending on the size and location of the dental problem. A cavity might not be painful at first. But as your tooth continues to decay, it may cause significant problems, including:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Pain when biting or chewing
- A mild ache that worsens when you drink or eat something hot, cold, or sweet
- Pits or holes in your tooth
- Discoloration and staining on the surface of your tooth
How to Manage a Toothache
Start with these treatments, which you can find in your kitchen, medicine cabinet, or nearby pharmacy:
- Saltwater Rinse: Mix 1/2 teaspoon salt into 8 ounces of water, swish around your mouth for 30 seconds to one minute, and then spit it out. Saltwater removes debris in between your teeth and soothes inflammation.
- Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse: Blend equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water and swish. Don't swallow it! A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide helps reduce bacteria, inflammation, and pain.
- Over-The-Counter (OTC) Painkillers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduce pain and inflammation. If you are treating a child, use a formula designed for their age and weight. Avoid giving children under 16 aspirin. Tylenol is a good substitute.
- OTC Numbing Treatments: Dental gels and liquids containing benzocaine help numb the gums and teeth, reducing pain. Gently dab on the tooth and surrounding gum tissue.
- Cold Compress: Hold a cold washcloth or ice pack on your cheek to reduce swelling in your mouth or jaw.
Toothache Alternative Remedies
These natural remedies won't stop decay or heal an abscess but may provide temporary relief:
- Garlic: Make a paste and apply it to the affected tooth. Garlic can relieve pain and kill bacteria.
- Clove Oil: Add a drop or two to a cotton pad and dab it on your tooth. Clove oil is a natural antiseptic that reduces pain and inflammation.
- Vanilla Extract: Sprinkle a few drops on a cotton ball and place it on the affected area. The alcohol in vanilla numbs the pain.
- Peppermint Tea: Hold a warm teabag against your tooth to soothe inflammation.
Toothache in Children
Toothache symptoms are similar in adults and children. However, children can't always pinpoint the source of pain. If your child has a fever and a sore tooth, ask these questions:
- Where is the pain in your mouth?
- What tooth is sore?
- Is the pain constant?
- Does eating hot soup or ice cream make it hurt more?
A child's toothache may not be obvious or as present as other dental problems. See the dentist for an accurate diagnosis.
When to See Your Dentist
Toothache remedies can alleviate pain for a brief time, but they won't solve underlying issues. If your tooth pain persists or continues to get worse, it's time to see a dentist.
Expect a thorough physical exam of your jaw, mouth, teeth, throat, nose, neck, and ears. The dental team may take an X-ray to determine the cause of your tooth pain.
Treatment depends on what is causing your pain:
- Cavity: If there is decay, your dentist will remove it, fill the cavity, or remove the tooth.
- Bacterial Infection: Your dentist may remove the pulp at the center of the tooth if it's infected. He or she will then protect the area with a sealing material. This procedure is called a root canal.
- Food debris, fever, or jaw problems: Small pieces of food may be stuck in your gums and lead to infection. You'll need a deep cleaning and possibly gum therapy. If your jaw is swollen or you have a fever, you may need an antibiotic.
A toothache isn't something to ignore, especially if you're in constant pain. Visiting the dentist is the best way to stop the ache and prevent an infection from getting worse.
Untreated cavities and tooth decay can have serious complications for adults and children, even if they don't have their permanent teeth. Possible complications include:
- An abscess or a pocket of pus around a tooth that can spread and lead to a more serious infection
- Throbbing pain
- Damaged or broken teeth
- Chewing problems
- Tooth loss