What is a Toothache?
The general reason for feeling pain in your tooth is that the nerve inside the root of your tooth has become irritated. This irritation may have occurred from pulpal swelling, infection, trauma, or tooth decay. No matter the cause the result is pain and discomfort. It can be surprising how the pain from one tooth can ripple into other areas of your body. Pain from even a single tooth can radiate into your ears, jaw and face.
What Does a Toothache Feel Like?
A toothache may feel like general discomfort ranging from mild to severe. This pain may be contained to a single tooth, expand to many, or continue into other areas of the mouth such as the jaw, cheeks, or ears. More specifically, a toothache may present itself with any of the following symptoms:
- Sensitivity to foods of certain temperatures (hot or cold).
- Bleeding or secretions from the gums and spaces surrounding your teeth.
- Pain while closing the jaw or while chewing.
- Swelling of the cheek and jaw or of the gums around a tooth.
You may experience one or several of these symptoms after experiencing trauma to the mouth, or they may be the result of tooth decay from a fractured tooth or gingivitis that has evolved into periodontitis. Determining the location of your pain may help determine the cause of it. You may not be able to physically see the troubled area, so tuning into how your teeth, gums, and surrounding areas feel can help decipher the reason for any discomfort.
Possible Toothache Causes
If you feel discomfort stemming from inside one of your teeth, it could mean that some form of inflammation has occurred near or in the root. The root of your tooth hosts a nerve which will alert you of any trauma or inflammation by allowing you to feel pain. The dental pulp (the innermost layer of your tooth) also contains several nerve endings which will signal you that something is wrong inside your tooth or up in the root.
Home Remedies For Toothache Relief
You can try to find relief from your toothache related pain by using one of these natural home remedies:
- Try gargling with salt water: Saltwater has natural healing properties. A mild toothache may find relief from this technique. Try this a few times per day and reassess your pain.
- Try applying a cold compress: Applying cold to any swollen or inflamed area will cause the blood vessels to constrict, and should help reduce any swelling. This is most helpful if you are experiencing swelling in your jaw or cheek.
- Chew or apply garlic: Garlic has natural medicinal qualities that may help with a toothache. Specifically, chewing garlic or applying it to painful areas can help as garlic discourages the growth of bacteria.
- Apply peppermint tea: To help with numbing painful areas inside your mouth, you can brew a peppermint tea bag and place it directly onto sensitive areas. Make sure to let the bag cool down before trying this one!
- Enlist the help of clove oil: Similar to the healing properties found in garlic, applying clove to painful areas in the mouth can help with oral pain management. To try this one out, soak a cotton ball in clove oil and bite down on it, making sure it’s in contact with the pained area.
If these home remedies do not seem to assist in reducing discomfort, you may be able to gain temporary relief from over-the-counter medicine. According to Donna S. Bautista, DDS, “Over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and are best taken on a schedule to provide pain relief.”
Always seek medical advice before implementing the use of a new medicine.
When To Seek Medical Attention
If your symptoms persist beyond the use of home remedies or the use of over-the-counter medicine you may need to seek medical attention.
Signs that you may need to visit a doctor or dentist may include:
Excessive bleeding from the gums.
A toothache that is partnered with bleeding from the gums can be a sign of infection. Reach out to a professional immediately if you have severe oral pain combined with bleeding, especially if you suffer from a weakened immune system.
You are experiencing pain in one or more wisdom teeth.
Cavities are more likely to occur in the teeth near the back of your mouth, and you may experience pain from cavities that have exposed the inner layers or nerve of your teeth. However, if you notice even moderate pain in your wisdom teeth, it is time to visit the dentist. You may also be able to determine if your wisdom teeth pain goes beyond that of a cavity if the pain moves into the jaw and ear regions. Finally, if you notice swelling or difficulty swallowing associated with pain stemming from your wisdom teeth, it’s time to schedule an appointment.
You have a fever or notice discharge surrounding a tooth.
If fever or swelling are present around one or multiple teeth, this may be a sign of an infection. In this case, draining of an abscess tooth or antibiotics may be prescribed. Furthermore, if this draining must be performed inside the tooth, you may be referred to an endodontist.
You have chills or a fever.
Cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease will not present themselves by the accompaniment of a fever or chills. If you experience either of these in conjunction with pain in the mouth, reach out to a dental professional, as they may be signs of a larger issue.
Your toothache was caused by an injury.
This can mean broken, heavily chipped, or knocked-out teeth. In any of these cases, it is pertinent that you see a dentist as these are considered dental emergencies. If a tooth has been knocked out, there may be a chance of reimplantation of that tooth. In this case, call your dentist immediately to be directed on how to do this yourself or to schedule an urgent visit to have it professionally reimplanted.
You are experiencing severe pain after having a tooth pulled.
It is natural to notice some discomfort in the days following a tooth extraction. However, if you are in excruciating pain, this may be a sign that you have a condition known as Dry Socket Syndrome. While this is a common complication of dental extractions, it is also serious and should be examined by a professional as soon as possible.
Jaw pain is accompanied by chest pain.
Jaw pain is generally a clear sign of dental disease or trauma. However, if this pain is partnered with any kind of chest pains, it could be a bigger deal. According to WebMD, “People with heart disease, especially people who have had stents placed, people with diabetes, or those who have had heart surgery may have jaw pain as a symptom of heart attack or angina. If your jaw or tooth pain is associated with lightheadedness, sweating, or shortness of breath, you should see a doctor.”
Discomfort is radiating into the jawline.
Feeling pain or experiencing clicking when opening and closing your jaw may be signs that you have a Temporomandibular Disorder (often simply called TMJ). Whether chronic and untreated or occurring as a result of injury, TMJ should be treated quickly by a medical professional.
Ways to Prevent a Toothache
Brush, Floss and Rinse
The best way to prevent a toothache from happening is to take good care of your teeth. (Here is a little Smile Education with simple and to-the-point tips on creating a healthy oral hygiene routine.) You can help prevent toothaches by following ADA recommendations and brushing your teeth twice a day, for at least two minutes a day. Additionally, brushing with a safe and effective toothpaste after meals can help prevent decay caused by food and plaque build-up on and between the teeth.
Also, flossing and rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash regularly are beneficial practices for supporting oral health and preventing cavities and gum disease.
When it comes to warding off tooth decay and other toothache-causing issues, fluoride is a must. Non-fluoride toothpaste may leave your mouth feeling clean, but your teeth will not have the protection they need. Make sure to use fluoride toothpaste each and every time you brush. You can also research your home’s water supply to make sure that it is fluoridated or request fluoride treatments at your regularly scheduled dentist appointments.
Avoid Sugary and Starchy Foods
Plaque thrives on food resting on your teeth, especially from foods and beverages high in sugar and starch content. These foods can release bacteria which goes to work quickly to erode your enamel and leaves your teeth vulnerable to cavities and oral pain. Some foods and beverages with the most negative effect on your teeth are soda, candy, cookies, chocolate, cake, and juice.
Keep Up With Appointments
Reinforce your daily routine by making and prioritizing dental cleanings and exams every six months. Your dentist can also help catch causes of toothaches before they become severe and unmanageable.