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A toothache can come from a wide variety of sources, and present in a variety of different discomforts, from dull ache to intense pain. 

To get relief, it’s important to identify what’s causing the pain. A dentist can bring a resolution, but a visit is not always necessary–there may be ways to successfully treat a toothache at home, and not just painkillers, which can help mask a toothache, but they can’t resolve it.

Let’s take a look at what may be causing your toothache and whether you need to seek medical attention for it.

What Causes Tooth Pain?

Ultimately, a toothache is the result of pulp in your tooth becoming inflamed. When the inflammation hits the nerve endings in the pulp, it causes pain. 

But how did the inflammation get there?

Something has damaged the protective layer of your teeth to allow the infection inside to the pulp. This could be:

  • a cavity/tooth decay
  • trauma/injury to either a natural tooth or a filling or restoration, causing it to be loose or broken
  • tooth loss, which leaves an exposed area of gum tissue open for bacteria to make its way into nearby teeth
  • impacted wisdom teeth or erupting teeth in children
  • teeth grinding

Referred Pain – Toothache from Issues Elsewhere

Sometimes, the body can register a problem with another area as tooth pain. This can include headaches and migraines, clogged/infected sinuses, joint or muscle pain connected to the jaw, and  even heart attacks and nerve diseases. 

Conversely, tooth pain can also radiate outward, such as from an upper molar to the jaw joint, thereby mimicking the symptoms of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain. Toothache pain can also spread to the ears, the cheeks, or the head as a headache.

Toothache Symptoms

When you have a toothache, any number of stimuli can cause moderate to severe pain that lasts for several moments after it’s removed, including pressure, hot or cold foods or drinks, sweet or acidic foods or drinks, or chewing. 

Other symptoms you may notice, beyond pain,  include:

  • fever
  • bleeding or swelling in mouth
  • bad breath or taste in the mouth
  • swollen lymph nodes in the jaw or neck

When Do You Need to See a Dentist for Your Pain?

Generally speaking, pain that lasts more than two days that you’re unable to treat with painkillers is a sign you need to go to the dentist to treat toothache pain. You’ll likely want to by that point, anyway. 

Likewise, if you experience an injury that results in broken or knocked-out teeth, you’ll obviously want to go to the dentist for aesthetic reasons alone, whether your teeth ache or not. 

Pain in the back of your mouth could be impacted wisdom teeth that may need to come out because they could damage other teeth, encourage the development of gum disease if they partially erupt, or even develop harmful but usually noncancerous cysts within the jawbone.

When to Go to the Emergency Room
Adequate jawbone density is a must-have before dental implant surgery, There will be situations where tooth pain needs to be treated immediately because it’s the result of a serious issue. If your dentist doesn’t offer emergency services, find one quickly who does or head to an emergency clinic for any of the following symptoms or circumstances:

  • high fever or swelling in your face or jaw, which may indicate you have a tooth infection that’s spreading
  • chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or other heart attack signs (which can include toothache)
  • swallowed teeth, especially due to traumatic injury
  • loss of permanent teeth
    trouble swallowing or speaking
  • excessive bleeding in the mouth

How to Relieve Tooth Pain at Home

Home toothache remedies can be a helpful way to achieve relief while waiting for your visit to the dentist; however, they shouldn’t be relied upon as alternatives to seeing the dentist. 

Making an appointment is always the safest way to proceed. 

Over-the-counter pain meds such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used to treat toothaches, but they also thin the blood and can’t be used by all patients. Also, ibuprofen has been shown to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and small intestine damage. 

But there are a number of natural remedies utilizing common household items that can help, such as:

  • a cold compress held on the area for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • a warm peppermint tea bag applied inside the mouth to the aching area
  • a cotton ball soaked in oil of cloves, diluted with olive oil, applied inside the mouth to the aching area

Often, simply avoiding the stimuli that flare up the toothache, such as very hot or cold foods, can be enough to make the pain subside. If your pain is caused by teeth grinding, finding a relaxation technique such as yoga that works for you can be very beneficial.

How Will a Dentist Treat Toothache?

Effectively treating a toothache depends on what is causing it. 

The dentist can determine this by visually inspecting your mouth, asking you questions, and potentially taking X-rays or doing other tests. 

Here’s how the dentist  will treat the following common causes of toothaches:

Cause Treatment(s)
  • Root canal – the removal of damaged and infected pulp, filling the space with a special material, and placing a crown over your tooth
  • Tooth extraction – a simple removal with anesthetic and forceps, or surgical removal
  • Filling – using an amalgam or composite material to fill the spaces created by bacteria
  • Crown – cementing a covering onto the damaged tooth to restore its form and function
  • Root canal
Loose/broken filling New filling
Tooth loss Cleaning/dressing and pain management of the dry socket until the area is ready for restoration – implant, bridge, dentures, etc.
Injury Depending on severity:
  • Bonding – a resin that hardens into a tooth-like substance is applied by hand directly to the tooth and shaped and molded to cover and strengthen chips or cracks
  • Filling
  • Crown
  • Root canal
  • Tooth extraction
Impacted wisdom tooth Wisdom tooth removal – outpatient surgery with anesthesia to cut into the gums and remove one (or up to four) impacted teeth

Preventing Toothaches

Prevention is always the best answer to toothaches, and also protects you from a variety of other oral problems. 

We’re talking about a good oral care routine: brushing at least twice per day (30 minutes after eating), and flossing at least daily. Using specially made “sensitive” toothpaste can make your teeth less sensitive and less prone to aching. 

Between this regimen and seeing the dentist regularly, most people will never experience tooth pain. 

Of course, accidents do happen, so if you play a sport such as soccer or engage in hobbies like cycling or rock climbing, pick up some protective mouth gear. A custom-fitted mouthguard from your dentist will provide the surest protection against mouth injury. 

Finally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can keep toothaches at bay. Watch what you eat and don’t smoke, as tobacco can open you up to dental problems. 

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