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Toothache: Things To Know About Tooth Pain

A toothache is an umbrella term used by patients to describe pain in or around their tooth, meaning it could be from the dentition or periodontium (gums and jaw bone).


fractured tooth
fractured tooth

Table of contents:


Overview

A toothache is not a diagnosis because it is a symptom and it is used to refer to pain in or around your tooth. The cause of your aching tooth could stem from within it or from the outside surrounding tooth structures such as the gums or bone.


We like to call it an "umbrella term" since the general populace uses it to describe all types of tooth pain. The descriptions are as wide as your imagination and the treatments for it are equally as vast.


Types of toothaches

Even though we'll be referring to these as "types of toothaches", they're more like symptoms.

  • A constant dull ache.

  • Sharp stabbing pain.

  • Throbbing tooth pain like a heartbeat.

  • Intermittent pain that comes and goes.

  • Extreme or severe tooth pain.

  • Raging toothache that wakes you up at night.

  • Swelling in your gums.

  • Can be linked to a headache.

  • Associated with an earache.

  • TMJ muscle pain.


If you're experiencing any of the above, consider yourself eligible to call it a toothache.


Etiology

Tooth pain can develop due to numerous possible causes. They can be so different from one another that the way you must treat and manage them will be different.


Possible causes of a toothache:


large decay on wisdom tooth
large decay on wisdom tooth

How long does a toothache last?

Depending on the underlying cause, a toothache can potentially last until you finally get treated by a dentist. Cavities and infections may constantly persist or they may come and go periodically. However, they won't completely go away until they're properly treated.


On the other hand, a very mild toothache can be temporary and dissipate within a few days. Examples would be the gums getting scratched by food or you injure it from aggressive flossing. These should heal on their own granted you keep your mouth clean.


Can a toothache go away on its own?

Only very mild tooth pain can go away on its own. The underlying causes are typically self-resolving and temporary in nature.


The types that can go away on its own:

  • Tooth concussion. If you bite down on hard food, it may feel tender for a few days.

  • Irritated gingiva. You forgot to floss or get food stuck.

  • Foreign body impaction. If you get a piece of tortilla chip or fish bone stuck in the gums, it can go away if you manage to remove it.


What won't go away on its own:

  • Infection or abscesses.

  • Tooth nerve pain.

  • Anything that affects the structural integrity of the tooth.


 

Treatment & Management

Tooth pain should be addressed with prompt attention because it rarely ever goes away if you do nothing for it. Inaction will allow the condition to progress and become more severe. In other words, you'll most likely end up in more pain.


Treatment modalities:

  • Permanent relief requires both professional dental treatment with at home remedies.

  • Without seeing a dentist, toothache home remedies can only provide temporary relief.


Professional treatment

Your dentist can provide you a thorough evaluation which includes the clinical exam along with x-rays. Putting together all of the information you can finally get a diagnosis and be prescribed the appropriate treatment for permanent toothache relief.


The dental treatments will vary and each one is geared towards a specific diagnosis.


Dental fillings

If you have a small cavity or chipped a piece of your enamel, your dentist will probably recommend a tooth filling. Your tooth can be restored by bonding a composite resin or by even placing an amalgam restoration.


During this procedure, any damaged portions of your tooth will be removed and then restored with the material of choice. You will be numb for it but at least your tooth will be as good as new afterwards.

Dental crowns

Root canal therapy

Tooth extraction

Dental abscess drainage

Prescription medication



At home management

Home remedies for toothaches can help temporarily alleviate the pain if it is mild. But if you're having an unbearable toothache that is rated a 8+ out of 10 on the pain scale, you need to see a dentist for treatment. That is unmanageable at home.


Nonetheless, here are some at home remedies to try for mild tooth pain.



OTC medication

It is important to note that NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are preferred over painkillers without anti-inflammation properties. It is crucial to reducing tooth pain.

  • Painkillers - ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen, etc.

  • Numbing gels - orajel and anbesol.


However, did you know that combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen provides a synergistic pain alleviation effect? That is essentially what is in advil dual action.

Saltwater rinse

Hydrogen peroxide rinse

Cold compress

Essential oils

Other types of remedies


Prevention

There may be times where it is impossible to prevent a toothache but there are good practices which can reduce the chances of them occurring.


Best practices to reduce your risk:

  • Brush at least twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

  • Floss between your teeth once a day.

  • Use a mouthwash after every meal.

  • Minimize your intake of sugary foods and drinks.

  • Visit your dentist biannually for exams and cleanings.

  • Inquire about possible sealants and fluoride treatments.


In our experience, those who frequently go to the dentist often have no problems or very mild problems. These typically require conservative and inexpensive treatment.

However, those who infrequently go to the dentist often have more complex problems that are often more expensive.


When should I see a dentist?

Our dentists in Long Island City, recommend seeking professional dental help for all toothache severities which includes the mild ones to the most excruciating. Try to have it checked out and treated as soon as possible.


However, you should call a dentist right away if you experience:

  • A toothache that has not gone away after 2-3 days.

  • Swelling in your face, mouth, or jaw.

  • If you can't open or close your mouth.

  • Pain that interrupts your daily activities or prevents you from sleeping.


Do I need to go to the ER?

You should head to your local emergency room if you have:

  • Swelling below your eye or a knot on your jaw.

  • Bleeding that won’t stop with applied pressure.

  • A fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.33 Celsius).

  • If your dentist is not open and you're having excruciating pain.


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About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

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Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!

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