Toothaches: causes, treatments, and how to prevent them

A toothache is pain that you feel in or around your tooth. Most often, toothache pain is a sign that there’s something wrong with your tooth or gums.  Sometimes, however, toothache pain is referred pain. That means the pain is caused by a problem elsewhere in your body.

You should never ignore toothaches. Toothaches caused by tooth decay can get worse if left untreated.

What do toothaches feel like?

Toothache pain can range from mild to severe, and it may be constant or intermittent.

You may feel:

  • throbbing pain or swelling in or around your tooth or gum
  • fever
  • sharp pain when you touch your tooth or bite down
  • tenderness and achiness in or around your tooth
  • painful sensitivity in your tooth in response to hot or cold foods and drinks
  • burning or shock-like pain, which is uncommon

7 Possible Causes of Toothache 

Toothache is pain around the tooth that may be caused by many different factors. This video explores 7 most common reasons of toothache and treatment options for each.

  1. Tooth Decay

Tooth decay or a cavity can cause a mild to sharp pain when biting down or eating something sweet or acidic. You would need to see your dentist to get a filling before the cavity causes more severe problems.

  1. Abscess

Abscess or an infection can cause a throbbing pain as a result of an untreated cavity, injury, or dental work. Especially if there is a fever is present, this may require antibiotics and drainage of the abscess, and a root canal should be performed by your dentist or endodontist.

  1. Tooth Sensitivity  (h3)

Tooth sensitivity that lasts only moments when teeth come in contact with liquids, cold air, and food is likely due to receding gums or thinning of the tooth enamel. Switch to a fluoride-containing tooth paste for sensitive teeth, and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

  1. Tooth Injury

Tooth injury such as a chipped tooth from biting onto something hard, can cause pain when biting or chewing, as well as sensitivity to hot, cold, sour, or sweet food. Contact your dentist right away for an emergency visit before the pain worsens.

  1. Recent Dental Work 

Recent dental work, such as teeth whitening and a filling, can cause temporary inflammation in the pulp tissues of the tooth. Take over the counter pain medication. If the pain does not subside after a few days, contact your dentist.

  1. Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth can cause pain when they are impacted or fail to break through the gum line. This usually causes inflammation of the gums, but pain may extend to the jaw and the ear. Take over the counter pain medication or visit your dentist for a wisdom tooth extraction.

  1. Sinus Congestion

Sinus congestion from a flu, cold, or allergies can cause a dull ache and pressure in the upper teeth, since they are in close proximity to the sinuses. Take a decongestant or visit your family physician.

Other causes of toothache can include gum infection, teeth grinding (bruxism), and more.

How to ease toothache while waiting for an appointment 

Do 

  • take painkillers, like ibuprofen or paracetamol (children under 16 should not take aspirin) – a pharmacist can advise you
  • try rinsing your mouth with salt water (children should not try this)
  • using a cold compress
  • use a pain-relieving gel for your mouth – this can be bought from pharmacies or supermarkets
  • eat soft foods, like yoghurt or scrambled eggs, and try to avoid chewing with the sore tooth

Don’t 

  • do not eat foods that are sweet, very hot or very cold
  • do not smoke – it can make some dental problems worse

Home remedies and Natural or herbal treatments 

  • Clove oil. A natural antiseptic that numbs pain and reduces inflammation. Dab a small amount of clove oil on a cotton ball and apply to the painful area. Or add a drop of clove oil to a small glass of water and rinse your mouth thoroughly.
  • Vanilla extract. The alcohol in vanilla extract numbs pain temporarily and its antioxidants help the area heal. Use your fingertips or cotton ball to apply the extract to the tooth and gum a few times a day.
  • Peppermint tea. Peppermint’s soothing properties can be applied to the painful area with a cooled down peppermint tea bag. Hold this warm tea bag against the tooth and gum.
  • Garlic. Make a paste of a crushed garlic clove and apply to the affected area. Garlic can kill bacteria (it contains the antimicrobial allicin) and relieve pain.

Temporary, home-made pain relief won’t be enough if your toothache is progressing. Call your dental professional when it becomes clear that the problem in your mouth is getting worse despite your best efforts.

How will the dentist treat my toothache? 

Treatment by a dental professional depends on what is causing your toothache.

  • If a cavity is causing the toothache, your dentist will fill the cavity or take the tooth out, if necessary.
  • A root canal (a procedure to remove and replace infected pulp with sealing material) may be needed if the cause of the toothache is an infection of the tooth’s nerve. Bacteria that have worked their way into the inner space of the root of the tooth cause infection.
  • An antibiotic may be prescribed if there is fever or swelling of the jaw. A small piece of food (like a popcorn hull) can get stuck under the gums causing an infection. In this instance, a deep cleaning may be performed or recommended followed by further periodontal (gum) therapy if necessary.

Toothache Treatment Follow-Up 

After toothache treatment at your dentist’s office, continue to practice good dental care. Routine and prompt follow-up appointments with the dentist should relieve your dental pain faster.

When you leave the emergency department, take the medications as prescribed and keep your follow-up appointment. If you have any concerning signs or symptoms, call your doctor.

Stopping smoking may help improve some dental conditions. If you are having trouble quitting, talk to your doctor about assistance.

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.

Toothache Prevention 

Most people can avoid toothaches and severe dental problems with regular dental care. Have your dentist’s telephone number easily available in case of an emergency.

  • Maintain a healthy diet. Bacteria thrive on refined sugar and starch and need this in order to burrow through the enamel on your teeth. Watch what you eat and be careful about food that sticks to and between your teeth. Brush your teeth after eating.
  • Establish a good program of cleaning your teeth to remove the food particles. Brush your teeth after eating and brush your gums to encourage healthy gum. Use a soft toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste as recommended by the American Dental Association. Floss between teeth daily. Water jets are effective at removing trapped particles, but flossing your teeth does a more thorough job when done carefully. Rinse daily with an antiseptic mouthwash to help get rid of bacteria that cause plaque and early gum disease.
  • Prevent tooth decay with fluoride. Fluoride is effective in preventing tooth decay in children. Fluoride is a natural element and is found in many water supplies and vegetables. Check and see if your tap water is fluoridated. If your water is not fluoridated, your dentist can prescribe fluoride tablets or fluoride supplements for children younger than 10 years.
  • Arrange to have your teeth cleaned by a dentist or dental hygienist at least twice a year. It may help in preventing both decay and gum disease. Dental X-rays may be needed every three to five years to identify problem areas.
  • Keep your bridge or dentures clean. Your dentist can offer suggestions. Even if you do not have all of your original adult teeth, you can prevent new dental problems if you try these preventive tips.
  • Wear a protective dental guard or headgear while playing sports to help prevent injury.
  • Do not smoke. Tobacco smoking may make some dental conditions worse.

Toothaches in Children 

A toothache (pulpitis) is when the pulp inside a tooth becomes inflamed and infected. The pulp is the soft part inside the tooth that has blood vessels and nerves. A toothache often happens after an injury to the tooth. The most common form of injury to a tooth is from a cavity. This is a hole in a tooth.

A cavity is often the result of poor dental hygiene. Sugar and starch in foods allow bacteria in the mouth to damage the teeth. The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and starch and make an acid that can eat through the teeth. This leads to tooth decay.

Your child’s healthcare provider can often diagnose a toothache with a complete health history and exam. They will likely refer your child to a dentist for evaluation and care.

At the dentist, your child may have X-rays done. An X-ray makes images of internal tissues, bones, and teeth. The dentist may also check for cavities using a device called a Trans illuminator. It uses no radiation.

The symptoms of a toothache may seem like other health or dental problems. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider or dentist for a diagnosis.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain medicine
  • Warm saltwater rinses for the mouth
  • Tooth removal
  • Draining a pus-filled infection (abscess), if needed
  • A simple filling, if needed
  • Surgery to remove the inflamed pulp from the middle of the tooth (root canal)

If the infection is severe, your child may be treated in a hospital. They may need antibiotics through an IV (intravenous) line.

Tooth Pain during Pregnancy 

When it comes to teeth pain or sensitivity, this pregnancy problem can catch you off guard. Yet, dental issues during pregnancy are more common than some people realize.

The body goes through many changes during pregnancy — you can thank hormonal shifts for this. The same way an increase in estrogen and progesterone may be responsible for symptoms like vomiting and nausea, these changes can also make you vulnerable to dental plaque.

This buildup of plaque can be the root cause of bleeding gums and inflammation, a condition known as pregnancy gingivitis. It affects up to 75 percent of pregnant women, so if you have it, you’re not alone.

And depending on the severity of pregnancy gingivitis, you may develop periodontal disease. This is a serious gum infection that destroys the bones supporting your teeth, leading to tooth loss.

Some women also develop pregnancy tumors, also caused by too much plaque. Don’t worry — these sound scary, but they’re noncancerous growths on the gums.

If you have tooth pain that doesn’t go away, don’t suffer silently. See your dentist right away, and don’t forget to mention that you’re pregnant.

It’s safe to have dental X-rays and certain dental procedures during pregnancy. But depending on how far along you are, your dentist may recommend delaying some treatments until at least the second trimester.

This might happen if you need a filling or a root canal, which require local or general anesthesia — and may increase miscarriage risk in the first trimester.

But since your baby’s vital organs are developed by the second trimester, there’s a lower risk of side effects when dentists delay certain procedures.

How much does it cost to treat toothache? 

The price of treating toothache varies depending on what is causing the pain. Toothache can be a symptom of something serious, so we recommend that you see a dentist to check it out. Your dentist will be able to diagnose the cause and advise you about the cost of treatment. When you book online for toothache, simply select an appointment for toothache or emergency.