Tooth pain occurs far too often, and can happen suddenly, sometimes after waking up or after biting down too hard when eating. Tooth pain, or a toothache, can be sharp and sudden or dull and constant – either way it is pain or inflammation felt in or around a tooth. While minor toothaches caused by temporary and mild gum irritation may be able to be treated at home, more serious toothaches will not get better on their own and need to be professionally treated by a dentist, so they do not worsen.
Knowing the common causes of toothaches and how to treat them is a simple, yet important way to prepare for a potential toothache, especially in the instance that you are unable to schedule an emergency dentist appointment.
What Are the Main Causes of a Toothache?
One of the most common causes of a toothache, is cavity-causing bacteria that infects the pulp tissue inside or near your tooth.
Other common causes of toothaches include:
- Damaged filling
- Gum disease (gingivitis)
- Tooth decay (damage to a tooth’s surface, or enamel)
- Tooth fracture
- Grinding your teeth while sleeping (bruxism)
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
TMJ symptoms such as jaw pain, an earache, and a headache are usually treated by wearing a night guard.
What Are the Common Signs of a Toothache?
If you are experiencing a toothache, you may have symptoms such as:
- Sharp pain when eating or drinking
- Pressure on your tooth when eating
- Swelling around the tooth
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
If you experience any of these symptoms, make sure to keep track of all your symptoms and when they started. Schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to avoid worsening pain and future problems from arising. Even if you think your toothache might not be serious, it’s best to consult your dentist to ensure that there is not a larger problem going unnoticed.
When Should I See a Dentist About a Toothache?
Toothaches typically do not go away on their own. However, if you’re experiencing mild pain around a tooth rather than inside it, the irritation in the gum may be temporary and could resolve within a few days.
During this time, it’s important to eat softer foods as well as avoid sweets and very hot and cold food and liquids. If your teeth are sensitive, foods that are harder to chew or are very hot or cold can cause more pain.
Signs to see a dentist immediately for a toothache include:
- The pain becomes more severe
- You can’t eat or drink foods or liquids at extreme temperatures
- The pain lasts for more than two days
- It is painful to open your mouth
Make sure to see your dentist a soon as possible to avoid potential problems, such as an infection developing or losing a part of the tooth enamel. If left untreated, eating or drinking can become painful and difficult. A quick appointment with your dentist can prevent these problems from happening.
What Can a Dentist Do for a Toothache?
When you visit the dentist for a toothache, your dentist will ask about your medical history and physically examine your teeth. You will be asked about the pain severity and how long it has lasted. If necessary, dentists can perform x-rays and additional thorough, yet non-invasive tests, to determine the cause of your symptoms. After running tests, the dentist will review the findings and treat your toothache.
It is essential to pay attention when your tooth hurts, as the consequences of ignoring dental pain could include an infection that leads toward more severe problems such as gum disease or, in some cases, missing teeth.
After a dentist treats your toothache, follow your dental hygiene routine carefully so that you’re less likely to experience toothaches in the future.
How Can I Soothe a Toothache at Home?
If your tooth begins to ache at night or on a weekend, you’ll need to know how to relieve the pain until you’re able to make it to your dental appointment. Several over-the-counter (OTC) products are great options for quick pain relief.
- Oral OTC pain medicines: The two basic types of OTC pain medicines that are taken by mouth include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Personal risk factors, such as lifestyle, age, and habits can influence which OTC oral pain reliever you should choose to treat your toothache. Make sure to keep your individual health and circumstances in mind when selecting a pain reliever.
- Oral discomfort gels:
- Oral discomfort gels are another short-term solution to ease pain from a toothache. These gels provide temporary relief related to minor mouth and gum irritations. However, products containing the ingredient benzocaine should not be used for teething or in children under two years old.
Keep in mind that both OTC pain medicines and oral discomfort gels should not be used long-term and that it’s important to pinpoint the root cause of the toothache.
When using oral OTC pain medicines or oral discomfort gels, the Drug Facts label should always be followed. Drug Facts labels provide everything you need to know before taking a medication, including the ingredients used, what the medicine is meant to treat, the correct dosage, and when it is unsafe to take the medicine.
Aside from OTC products, using a cold compress and rinsing your mouth with salt water can also be effective for reducing swelling at home.
How Can Toothaches Be Prevented?
Fortunately, there are a couple simple ways to keep most toothaches from developing:
- Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth twice a day, which helps remove food and plaque. While brushing, the tooth enamel is buffed and polished so that acid from food has less of an impact.
- Floss to help remove food particles that remain trapped between gaps in your teeth’s enamel, which might otherwise lead to tooth decay or cavity development if left for long periods of time.
Maintaining good everyday habits like the ones listed above are critical to your dental health. Still, it is important to see your dentist for routine professional cleanings and checkups every six months. During a routine dental visit, a hygienist will clean your teeth and remove any plaque and hardened tartar, and your dentist will check for signs of cavities, gum disease
Even if you maintain your oral hygiene routine and meticulously care for your teeth, it’s still important to prioritize visiting the dentist’s office for a bi-annual cleaning and checkup. Routine cleanings are essential to keeping teeth healthy and protected from plaque build-up or tartar, and your dentist can check for signs of cavities, gum disease, and other oral health issues.