What is a toothache?

A toothache is pain in or around a tooth.

What is the cause?

Possible causes of a toothache are:

  • An infected tooth or gum
  • Irritation of a tooth nerve by decay
  • Problem with your sinuses or jaw joint (TMJ)
  • A fracture or crack in a tooth
  • A damaged or loose filling in your tooth
  • Repetitive motions such as chewing gum more than usual or grinding your teeth during sleep
  • Gums that pull away from your teeth
  • A loose crown
  • Any injury that may have damaged the tooth

What are the symptoms?

Tooth pain may be sharp or throbbing. It may be constant or it may hurt only when you put pressure on the tooth. Most often you will feel pain in the area of the problem tooth, but sometimes you may feel pain in a different area. Cold or heat may make the pain much worse.

In some cases, you may have swelling around the tooth or get a fever or headache. Sometimes there is foul-tasting drainage from an infected tooth.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your teeth, gums, and other areas around your mouth. Your provider may also check your ear, throat, jaw, or sinuses to see if they may be causing the pain. You may have blood tests or X-rays.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the cause. Fixing a loose crown, damaged filling, or crack in the tooth will often take care of the toothache. If you grind your teeth, a mouth guard may help. If you have an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. If a tooth is infected, it is important to get treatment. A dental infection can spread to other parts of the body.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have tooth pain, see your dentist for treatment. Until you can see your dentist, take these steps to help relieve the pain:

  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Stay away from hot, cold, or sweet foods or liquids that cause discomfort.
  • Chew on the side that doesn’t cause pain.
  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your jaw every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Put moist heat on your jaw for up to 30 minutes to relieve pain. Moist heat includes heat patches, a warm wet washcloth, or a hot shower. Do not use a dry heating pad, it may make your symptoms worse.
  • Rinse your mouth 3 to 4 times a day with warm saltwater. This may help relieve pain and swelling.

Ask your dentist what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them.

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent toothache?

To help prevent tooth problems:

  • Brush your teeth correctly for at least 2 minutes twice a day. The most important time to brush is before you go to bed at night.
  • Floss correctly between your teeth once a day.
  • Gently massage your gums with a soft toothbrush.
  • Rinse daily with a fluoride or antibacterial, alcohol-free mouthwash.
  • Limit starchy or sugary foods that can lead to tooth decay or brush your teeth right after you eat these foods. Rinsing with water or chewing sugarless gum after you eat or drink foods that contain sugar can also help. Chewing gums sweetened with Xylitol can reduce and control bacteria in your mouth.
  • Have regular dental checkups and cleaning, including X-rays. You may want to ask your dentist about a fluoride treatment and sealants for teeth.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-01-21
Last reviewed: 2015-01-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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