Toothaches can be a real pain. Sometimes the discomfort goes away on its own, but in most cases, it’s a symptom of a larger issue. Toothaches happen for many reasons, but it can be a sign that something is wrong with your oral health. The best thing to do is visit your dentist so they can make a proper diagnosis and determine the appropriate treatment.
If you can't get to the dentist right away, you might want to alleviate the discomfort until you can see a professional. This guide will give you information, tips, and home remedies for toothaches.
The Main Causes of Toothaches
Plenty of factors can cause toothaches. Some are only temporary, like inflamed gums, and go away on their own in a few days. Others are more serious and require professional evaluation. Below are the most common causes of toothaches.
Cavities are small holes that form in your teeth caused by a variety of factors:
- Bacteria in your mouth
- Poor oral hygiene
- Excessive sweet and sugary drink consumption
- Untreated cavities can grow and affect deeper layers of the teeth, leading to infection and tooth loss
How do cavities form?
Your mouth is full of bacteria, some of which are beneficial and others that are harmful. The latter feed primarily on the sugars and starches in our food, which causes them to produce an acid that wears away tooth enamel (the protective layer that covers the teeth) and forms tartar. Over time, the enamel deteriorates until it’s destroyed, causing a hole to develop, also known as a cavity.
Main symptoms of tooth decay:
- Tooth sensitivity when eating sweet, hot, or cold foods
- Dark spots on the surface of the tooth
- Gaps in the teeth
Advanced decay can cause a serious infection, known as an abscess.
A tooth abscess is when pus collects inside a tooth due to a bacterial infection. It can occur in different areas of the tooth, like at the tip of the root (periapical abscess) or in the gums next to the tooth (periodontal abscess).
How does a tooth abscess form?
An abscess occurs when bacteria reach the deepest part of the tooth known as the dental pulp. The bacteria enter through a cavity or a broken or chipped tooth, causing an infection that results in a buildup of pus and internal dental tissue inflammation.
Main symptoms of an abscess:
- Intense toothache
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
- Pain when chewing or biting
- Swelling in the face or cheeks
- Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw and/or neck
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Without proper treatment, abscesses can spread to other areas of the jaw, neck, and head. Eventually, it can spread throughout the body and lead to a life-threatening infection.
Pulpitis is an inflammation of dental pulp. Its primary symptom is acute pain.
Main causes of pulpitis:
- Untreated cavities
- Trauma affecting the pulp structure
- Multiple dental restorations that required invasive procedures
Depending on the stage of the condition, there are two kinds of pulpitis:
- Reversible pulpitis pain occurs in response to a stimulus, like eating something cold or sweet. When the stimulus is removed, the pain almost immediately stops.
- Irreversible pulpitis pain appears suddenly or lasts several minutes after removing the stimulus. Eventually, the pulp tissues die (necrosis), causing the tooth to become unresponsive to cold or heat. The infection may progress further and develop into an abscess.
Dental trauma is the displacement, loss, or fracture of a tooth caused by a severe blow or impact.
How does dental trauma occur?
There are many situations in which a severe blow can occur. The most common are:
- Sports or physical activity
- Car accidents
- Blunt trauma or violence
In addition to intense pain, trauma to the mouth can cause difficulties doing basic things such as biting or making facial expressions.
Wisdom teeth are located in the back of the mouth and are typically the last to grow in. Sometimes, they don’t have enough space to come in properly, which interferes with their normal development. They become what is known as impacted.
Main symptoms of a impacted wisdom tooth:
Although impacted wisdom teeth don’t always cause discomfort, they can sometimes trigger symptoms like:
- Swelling in the gums and around the jaw
- Tender and/or bleeding gums
- Jaw pain
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant taste
- Difficulty opening the mouth
Occasionally, impacted wisdom teeth can lead to other complications, such as:
- Damage to other teeth
- Gum disease
Home Remedies for Toothaches
All of the above conditions should be treated by a professional. You can, however, take some actions to alleviate a toothache until you can see a dentist. Some remedies include:
Cold helps reduce swelling and pain in the affected area. Wrap an ice pack or very cold compress in a towel and place it on the sore area for 20-minute intervals. Wait a few hours and repeat. You can do this process as many times as necessary for relief.
Warm salt water
Gargling salt water helps remove bacteria between the teeth, acts as a disinfectant, and reduces inflammation. Stir half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and rinse your mouth thoroughly with the solution. Be careful not to swallow.
A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution helps reduce inflammation and alleviate toothache. Dilute it with equal parts of water to make a mouthwash. Gargle, but don’t swallow the liquid.
Peppermint has soothing properties. Place a moist peppermint tea bag against your tooth or gums for temporary relief.
Cloves are a natural antiseptic that reduce pain and inflammation. Rub a small amount of clove oil on a piece of cotton and apply it to the affected area. You can also try adding a drop of clove oil to a glass of water and make a mouthwash.
The alcohol in vanilla extract relieves pain temporarily and its antioxidants help heal the area. Use your fingertips or a piece of cotton to apply the extract to the tooth or gums several times a day.
Garlic kills bacteria and helps numb pain. Simply take a clove of fresh garlic and crush it into a paste. Apply it to the affected area.
What Medications Relieve Toothaches?
Some over-the-counter drugs can reduce tooth pain and inflammation. The most well-known and most commonly used are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). You are probably familiar with the following drugs and their brand names:
- Aspirin, also known as Bayer or St. Joseph's
- Ibuprofen, often sold as as Motrin or Advil
- Naproxen, also known as Aleve
- Acetaminophen is a non-NSAID medication that relieves pain and inflammation, and is often sold under the Tylenol brand
Keep in mind: While these tips may help control your toothaches, they only provide temporary relief. To treat the cause of the pain, always see a dentist for proper diagnosis and treatment. Not seeing a professional can make the problem worse.
Tips to Prevent Toothaches
The best way to prevent toothaches is to keep your teeth and gums healthy. To do this, consider the following:
- Practice proper oral hygiene by brushing your teeth two to three times a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing regularly
- Visit the dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleanings
- Avoid foods and beverages that are high in sugar and starch
- Avoid smoking
- Wear a mouthguard if you play sports
When Should I See a Doctor?
If you’ve suffered dental trauma, go to the emergency room as soon as possible. If your toothache is due to other reasons, see your dentist if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Pain lasting more than two days
- Signs of infection like swelling, pain when biting, red gums and/or foul-smelling oral secretions
- Trouble breathing and/or swallowing
Take Care of Your Smile!
Toothaches can be a sign of a more serious oral health problem. That’s why it’s important to go to the dentist as soon as possible and address it. In the meantime, there are many things you can do to treat the pain. We hope this guide has given you useful tools to manage the pain while you wait for your appointment.PODERsalud provides dental coverage for you and your family. Our membership grants you access to premium dental visits and medical care for just $16.95 per month. Access consultations with certified, Spanish-speaking doctors who are eager to help you maintain your health! Sign up today and keep your smile perfectly pain-free!