If you’ve ever experienced a toothache, you know how hard it can be to deal with it. When one or more of your teeth starts causing you pain, it’s all you can think about. Tooth pain can affect how you eat, talk, and even sleep.
But tooth pain usually occurs for a reason. It’s often a sign of a problem – one that’s likely easy to treat. Between effective home tooth pain relief remedies and professional dental treatment, it’s possible to get rid of tooth pain fast.
When to see the dentist about your tooth pain
The American Dental Association recommends seeing a dentist right away to help determine the cause of the problem and prevent the tooth from dying¹. A toothache may be an indicator of a more serious problem that requires dental treatment. However, momentary sensitivity to hot or cold foods usually doesn’t signal a serious problem, if the pain doesn’t remain for a significant period².
Make an appointment with your dentist if you’re experiencing tooth pain. If you’re also experiencing swollen gums, a fever, blood or pus, throbbing pain, an unpleasant taste in your mouth, or a swollen jaw, you may have an abscessed tooth and should seek emergency treatment.
How to help stop tooth pain at home
To help cure your toothache and treat the underlying cause of it, you’ll want to visit a dentist for professional care. However, if you can’t see your dentist right away and you need tooth pain relief fast, these common household remedies can help you manage tooth pain fast at home in the meantime.
Cold compress – Apply a cold compress to the outside of your cheek closest to the affected tooth. This can help numb the pain and reduce swelling. Using an ice pack can also have the same effect.
Saltwater rinse – A saltwater rinse is an inexpensive and effective way of relieving tooth pain at home. As a bonus, saltwater rinses can improve your overall oral health by fighting bad breath, helping to reduce bacteria, prevent swelling, remove food wedged between teeth, and more.
OTC pain medication – Use over-the-counter pain medications to temporarily alleviate your tooth pain. The American Dental Association recommends using over-the-counter pain medications over prescription antibiotics³. Be sure to use the medication as directed.
Floss – Simple, yet effective. Sometimes, tooth pain is caused by food wedged between the teeth or along the gumline. Flossing between your teeth can help relieve that temporary tooth pain. If using string floss is too painful, try using a water flosser.
Toothache gel – Most drugstores carry over-the-counter toothache gel for temporary relief of oral discomfort. These gels usually use ingredients such as eugenol and benzocaine to numb and soothe the affected areas. Toothache gels bearing the ADA Seal of Acceptance are certified for safety and effectiveness⁴.
Remember – these remedies can help temporarily stop your tooth pain, but they won’t cure the problem. Visit your dentist to treat your tooth pain.
What not to do if you have a toothache
These things might end up making your toothache worse instead of providing relief.
Don’t eat foods that are sweet, very hot, or very cold
Don’t eat hard foods
Don’t hold OTC pain medication against your sore tooth
What causes tooth pain?
Tooth pain isn’t typically an isolated problem. It usually an indication of a cavity or gum disease, though sometimes it’s caused by other more serious conditions. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something – your dentist can help you diagnose what exactly that is and how to treat the issue.
Cavities are damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny holes⁵. Also called caries or tooth decay, cavities can cause significant tooth pain. If left untreated, they can likely get larger and cause an even more severe toothache.
How to help treat tooth pain caused by cavities
How your dentist will treat tooth pain caused by cavities will likely depend on the severity of the cavity. Fillings are typically the most common treatment option for cavities. If your cavity just started, a fluoride treatment can help reverse a cavity in the earliest stages⁶. If tooth decay reaches the inner material of your tooth, your dentist may need to perform a root canal to save the tooth. If the decay is extremely severe, your dentist may recommend extracting the tooth altogether⁷.
Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. In its advanced stages, it can typically lead to sore gums, toothaches, and even tooth loss. Other symptoms may include bad breath, tender or swollen gums, and painful chewing.
How to help treat tooth pain caused by gum disease
Gum disease treatment varies depending on the extent of the infection. If your gum disease isn’t at a very advanced stage, your dentist might perform simple procedures such as tooth scaling and root planing to help remove bacteria or prescribe antibiotics to help control infection. If the gum disease is more severe, treatment may require oral surgery.
An abscess is an infection of a tooth that forms a bacteria-filled sac around the roots. As it progresses, bacteria is likely to invade the nerve of the tooth, causing inflammation and infection inside your tooth that can kill the tooth from the inside if left untreated⁸. Severe abscesses left untreated may lead to an infection in the jawbone and surrounding tissue. Tooth abscesses can likely cause an extremely painful throbbing pain in your tooth, jaw, neck, or ear. Common symptoms of an abscessed tooth include hot and cold sensitivity, fever, redness, and swelling⁹.
How to help treat tooth pain caused by an abscessed tooth
If you suspect you may have an abscessed tooth, visit your dentist as soon as possible for emergency treatment. Depending on the severity of the abscess, your dentist might prescribe antibiotics, drain the abscess, clean out the abscess, perform a root canal, or perform an extraction. The most common course of action is to perform a root canal, then have a permanent crown placed over the tooth to protect it and keep it from future infection.
Accidents, sports injuries, and falls may crack your teeth and lead to toothaches. Depending on the level of severity, cracked teeth can be very painful. There are five common types of tooth cracks, increasing in level of severity: craze lines, cracked tooth, fractured cusp, vertical root fracture, and split tooth¹⁰.
How to help treat tooth pain caused by trauma
If you’ve chipped or cracked your tooth, be sure to see your dentist as soon as possible. The type of treatment your dentist does will likely depend on the location, type, and severity of the crack. Bonding, veneers, and crowns are some of the most common types of cracked teeth treatment, working both to help alleviate tooth pain and to restore the look of your teeth. Teeth typically don’t heal completely as broken bones do, so it’s important to treat cracked teeth right away before they get worse.
If you’re experiencing dull, throbbing tooth pain rather than sharp tooth pain, this may be caused by a sinus headache or teeth grinding¹¹.
How to help prevent tooth pain
Like most dental conditions, it’s easier to prevent tooth pain than it is to cure it. Practicing good oral hygiene habits at home can help you avoid many oral health conditions that cause tooth pain. Here are some of the most common ways to help prevent tooth pain at home¹²:
Brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
Clean between your teeth daily, using string floss or an interdental cleaner
Don’t wait until something goes wrong to see the dentist. Visit your dentist regularly for the prevention and treatment of oral disease.
Eat a nutritious diet, limiting sugary drinks and snacks
Drink fluoridated water, if available
Don’t clench or grind your teeth
Don’t use your teeth as tools
How dental insurance can help you cover the costs to prevent and get rid of tooth pain
While temporarily relieving tooth pain can sometimes be relatively inexpensive or free, getting the dental treatment necessary to resolve the problem can be expensive. Still, it’s well worth it – failing to address the cause of your tooth pain quickly can result in even worse pain and an even more expensive problem. Sometimes, leaving your toothache unchecked can cause you to lose the tooth entirely.
The cost of treating your tooth pain will depend on the cause of it and whether you have insurance.
Most dental insurance plans cover preventive care at 80% to 100%. Visiting the dentist regularly can help you avoid developing conditions that can lead to painful toothaches as well as catch any painful oral disease in the early stages.
The National Association of Dental Plans found that Americans with dental insurance benefits are more likely to go to the dentist, take their children to the dentist, receive restorative care, and experience greater overall health¹³.
If you’re retired, you’re self-employed, or your employer doesn’t offer dental insurance benefits, you can purchase comprehensive individual dental insurance.
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It is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office. Guardian Direct plans are underwritten and issued by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America New York, N.Y. or its subsidiaries. Products are not available in all states.
https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/Top-Dental-Symptoms, accessed September 2020
https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/tooth-pain, accessed September 2020
https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/ada-seal-products, accessed September 2020
https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/fluoride-superhero, accessed October 2020
https://www.aae.org/patients/dental-symptoms/tooth-pain, accessed September 2020
Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.(exp.09/22)