Toothaches can cause throbbing, aching, and swelling; often preventing you from eating, sleeping, or talking. A toothache emergency can come on quickly, ruin your day, and keep you awake all night.
Find out some effective emergency toothache relief home remedies, causes of toothaches, when to go to the emergency room for a toothache, and solutions for getting rid of toothaches.
Dos and don’ts for urgent toothaches
The American Dental Association (ADA) advises several actions when you have a toothache, including:1
- Elevate your head
- Use ice packs, but do not chew on ice
- Use extra pillows when sleeping
- Continue to brush your teeth normally
- If a tooth is knocked out, rinse it gently, and replace it into the socket
- Be careful when eating popcorn, and avoid biting the un-popped kernels
- Do not use your teeth as tools
- Do not smoke
- Do not use sharp or pointed instruments in your mouth to remove something stuck between your teeth
Any pain that persists or worsens requires a trip to the dentist so they can identify the cause and provide you with needed treatment.
Emergency toothache relief home remedies
There are many types of home remedies for toothache emergencies. Most are harmless; some are effective; all provide only temporary solutions for a toothache emergency or for dental pain that is chronic—the pain you have suffered for days, weeks, or even months.
Here are some of the most common home remedies for toothaches.
1. Over-the-counter pain relievers
A good place to start finding relief for a toothache is in your medicine cabinet. Mild pain relievers, especially those called NSAIDs can help reduce pain and inflammation caused by dental infections. Popular types of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). Use these exactly as directed. If you do not get relief after two or three normal scheduled doses, you will probably need a trip to the dentist.
2. Oil of cloves
Both folk medicine practitioners and dentists have used this antibacterial home remedy for decades. A substance called eugenol, an extract from cloves can be used as a soothing ointment after a tooth extraction. You can purchase clove oil from pharmacies and health food shops.
The eugenol in clove oil numbs the area slightly, which helps to alleviate the pain. If the oil is not available, you can also grind a whole clove with water to make a paste. Apply the paste to the tooth or put it into an empty tea bag and bite on the bag.
3. Toothache drops and gels
Several ointments are available over the counter from local pharmacies and grocery stores. These are designed specifically to treat toothaches and other types of oral pain. Just remember that these only provide temporary relief, and persistent tooth pain means a trip to the dentist.
4. Ice packs
Ice helps to reduce swelling and provides a small amount of numbing to the face. Ice is particularly useful if your face has become swollen from an infected tooth.
Place a handful of ice in a plastic baggie. Cover the baggie with a cloth or small towel. Place the towel against your face, and allow the cold from the ice to penetrate to your skin. Hold this in place for 10–15 minutes, at the most. Repeat the ice pack treatment every 30 minutes to one hour throughout the day. Some patients report that an ice pack just before bed helps them sleep, despite the lingering toothache.
Rinsing with warm salt water is a remedy that has been around for hundreds of years. Saltwater kills bacteria and helps reduce swelling.
Although it sometimes causes skin burns and affects your breath, it still might be worth a try if all else fails.
7. Baking soda
Baking soda neutralizes acidic conditions, which is where bacteria thrive. Bacteria cannot live in the same environment with baking soda. Make a thick paste of the baking soda and water. Gently rub the paste on the achy tooth and gums.
The use of these and other home remedies for toothaches provides only temporary pain relief.
Common causes of toothaches
Toothaches come in many shapes and sizes. From biting down on a piece of hard candy and getting a mild bruise all the way to a full-blown abscess, toothaches are never fun.
Knowing the common causes of toothaches will help you to avoid and prevent many hours of misery.
A hard substance called tooth enamel protects the outer part of a tooth. Inside the tooth are nerves and blood vessels that keep the tooth healthy and functioning normally. If the enamel is not kept clean, the bacterial buildup and a sticky film, called plaque, begin to attack and weaken the enamel. When the enamel weakens and breaks down, holes or cavities form. When these holes become open, the nerves inside the tooth become exposed and pain begins.
Dentists can easily fill and repair small cavities that they detect in the early stages of development. But if a cavity gets too deep into the tooth, there may be no choice but to remove it.
Toothaches caused by decay usually start out as a mild discomfort. Sensitivity to temperature and sweets signals the start of decay. This is when seeking dental treatment is critical. If not addressed in its initial stages, decay can destroy all the enamel, leaving painful nerves exposed.
Decay and trauma can cause a tooth to become abscessed. An abscess is an infection in the nerve of the tooth, usually seen as a large cyst encapsulating the end of the root.
Abscesses are basically pus and bacteria-filled sacs on the root tips down inside the jawbone. Deep decay, injuries, advanced gum disease, or trauma to the face are the most common causes of abscesses.
When a tooth becomes abscessed, it will either need root canal therapy or extraction. Abscesses are extremely painful and home remedies do little to ease the pain. Addressing decay in its early stages and avoiding injuries to the face and jaw are the best ways to prevent dental abscesses.\
Another common cause of toothaches is gum disease. When bacteria and plaque remain on the teeth and under the gums for a long time, infections begin. First, a mild form called gingivitis causes your gums to bleed easily and be tender when brushing. You can treat this form of gum disease with home remedies—gentle brushing, flossing to remove debris from between the teeth, and warm saltwater rinses.
If left untreated, gingivitis can turn into a deeper infection that affects not just the gums but also the bone that holds the teeth in place. Only a dentist or a dental hygienist can treat this painful condition.
Falls, accidents, and sports injuries are common causes of toothaches from cracked or broken teeth. Precautions, such as wearing helmets and mouthguards, using sturdy step ladders and handrails, and driving safely with seatbelts in place are the best ways to avoid toothaches due to trauma.
If you injure your face or teeth and over-the-counter pain medications do not help, or if you have other serious injuries, you may need a trip to the emergency room. But if the pain or trauma is limited to your teeth and face, a trip to the dentist is far more desirable not to mention less expensive.
Can you go to the emergency room for a toothache?
Dental emergencies are often best treated in a dental office because hospitals often don’t have a dentist on staff to examine patients with dental injuries. Nor are emergency rooms equipped with dental X-ray machines to assess damage to teeth. At best, ER doctors may give a patient with a toothache a prescription for pain medications and tell him to go see a dentist as soon as possible.
Emergency rooms are the place to go in some limited situations involving your teeth. If you have swelling that comes from a lower tooth and is causing your neck to swell, which might make it hard for you to breathe, the ER is the best choice for treatment. The other time when an ER visit is warranted is if you have sustained an injury that involves not only your teeth and face but also other areas of the body or a possible concussion.
Most dental offices reserve some time each day for emergency patients. Your dentist can quickly assess your toothache, identify the cause of your pain, and provide the treatment you need. That might be as simple as getting a filling or as complex as a surgical extraction.
If an infection is present, the dentist might want you to take antibiotics prior to any treatment. If not, they might be able to address your toothache and provide the treatment needed to eliminate the pain right then.
If possible, avoid going to an ER with a toothache. See a local dentist in an office or clinic as quickly as possible when home remedies are ineffective.
Avoiding emergency toothaches
Regular dental checkups and daily brushing and flossing can help you avoid emergency toothaches.
During regular visits to your dentist, they examine all the teeth, gums, and other soft tissues in your mouth for signs of early decay, gum diseases, and oral cancer. Dental X-rays and scans detect decay that neither you nor a dentist can see with the naked eye. Special instruments used by your dentist or dental hygienist can identify areas where gum disease is just getting started.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove bacteria, plaque, and food debris from your teeth and gums. This habit should be part of your everyday hygiene routine to help avoid toothaches and gum disease.
Taking precautions when driving (seatbelts), riding open-air vehicles (helmets), and playing sports (mouthguards) helps cut down on the likelihood of sustaining a dental injury due to trauma.
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. This 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.
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