Imagine this: It’s late at night. You’re trying to sleep, but you have a throbbing in your tooth that won’t go away. Your head is pounding and your gums feel sore and tender.
Chances are, you’re experiencing a toothache. Toothaches are exactly what they sound like: pain or inflammation in or around a tooth. Not only can they affect your sleep, they often carry side effects such as pain while eating, tooth sensitivity, and general discomfort.
Most adults will experience toothache symptoms at some point in their life. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at common causes and treatments of toothaches, plus what to do if you think you have one.
Toothaches range from a consistent dull ache to sharp, sudden pain, even when you’re not eating or biting down.
However, there are a few common symptoms:
- Pain when you bite
- Swelling around the tooth
- Bad taste in your mouth
If you’re experiencing pain in your tooth consistently for more than 24 hours, you probably have a toothache. It might seem tempting to tough it out through toothache pain, but it’s best to set up an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.
What causes a toothache?
An abscessed or infected tooth
An abscess is a red, painful bump found on the side or near a sore tooth. It appears when a tooth is infected.
Fillings can loosen, crack, or chip over time. This can cause sensitivity and pain on its own. It also opens the door for bacteria to find their way into the gap between the filling and the tooth, sometimes resulting in tooth decay or infection.
Teeth grinding or TMJ
Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw puts stress on both the teeth and jaw muscles and often causes the face, neck, and jaw to ache and hurt. Additionally, when you grind your teeth, it wears down the enamel, leaving the dentin (nerve endings) of the teeth exposed, causing sensitivity and pain in the tooth. It can eventually lead to pulpitis, which is inflammation of the blood vessels and nerves towards the center of the teeth.
Sinus infections occur when fluid builds up in the sinuses, causing pressure to grow and the sinuses to swell. A toothache from a sinus infection usually occurs in the upper back teeth, as they are closest to the sinuses.
Though these headaches typically center around one eye or on the side of the head, a common side effect is pain radiating through the jaw and teeth.
Health consequences of toothaches
While toothaches aren’t always severe, they cause at least minor discomfort and are a sign of a larger problem. If your toothache is caused by tooth decay or a serious infection like an abscess and is left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss, a blood infection, or even pneumonia.
In worst-case scenarios, the infection in the tooth can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain and the lungs. This is why it’s important to identify and treat toothaches quickly.
Should I try to treat my toothache at home?
You’ll see all sorts of at-home treatments when you research toothache symptoms online. A home remedy approach might sound tempting to avoid a trip to the dentist, but this isn’t recommended. If you are experiencing toothache symptoms, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
However, there are a few effective ways to ease toothache pain at home until then, including:
- Saltwater rinse: Long used for its anti-inflammatory effects, a saltwater rinse is a natural way to help reduce bacteria in the mouth and soothe pain in the gums.
- Cold compress: When applied for a few minutes at a time to the cheek outside of the toothache, cold compresses can help reduce swelling and pain.
- Over the counter pain medication: When taken according to package instructions, help reduce inflammation and keep you comfortable while awaiting your dental appointment.
- Clove oil: Clove oil contains eugenol, which is naturally anesthetic and antibacterial. When applied directly to the gums, clove oil can help reduce toothache pain until a dentist can start treatment.
The best approach is to take steps to prevent toothaches. This includes practicing good oral hygiene, like regular brushing and flossing at home, using a fluoride mouthwash, and going to the dentist for an exam twice per year.
When you go to your dentist for a toothache, the dentist will examine not only the tooth, but your gums, jaw, and the surrounding teeth. This allows them to get a complete idea of the cause of the toothache and the scope of the infection, if there is one.
Here are a few treatments for the common toothache causes:
- Cavity — Your dentist will remove the decay and either fill the tooth or take it out, depending on the severity of the decay
- Infections — Antibiotics may be necessary, or a root canal if the bacteria has infected the tooth’s nerve
- Damaged filling — The dentist will remove the filling and decay, and replace it with a new filling
- Teeth grinding and TMJ — There are multiple ways to treat teeth grinding and TMJ, including wearing a mouthguard at night and practicing stress relief techniques.
When to see a dentist
If you are experiencing toothache symptoms that last more than 24 hours, or if you have severe pain associated with your toothache, it’s recommended to call your dentist to set up an appointment right away. You should also plan to make an appointment with your dentist if you have a fever, headache, or earache with your toothache symptoms. Your dentist will determine what treatment is best for you.