Toothache can refer to any pain near the teeth. While a toothache is typically the result of decay, there are several factors that can cause toothache pain. A toothache may present itself in several ways. The pain can be mild or severe, constant or may come and go without warning. Eating or drinking, especially hot or cold food, can increase the severity of the pain. The pain may be worse at night, especially if you are lying down. A toothache will often begin with a lost or broken filling. It may be difficult to tell if the pain is coming from an upper or lower tooth. Often, if a lower molar is affected it may feel as if you have an earache. A toothache in an upper tooth may feel as if it is coming from the sinuses.

Specific Causes of Toothaches

Typically, a toothache occurs when the dental pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth, becomes inflamed. Dental pulp is composed of blood vessels and sensitive nerves. Dental pulp may become inflamed due to several factors:

  • Cavities on a tooth formed do to tooth decay.
  • A crack in a tooth that can allow bacteria to enter the pulp.
  • A loose or broken filling that can expose a nerve in the tooth.
  • Receding gums that shrink, exposing more sensitive parts of the root of the tooth.
  • An abscess, or bacterial infection, that can cause puss to form at the end of the tooth.
  • Changes to the support structures of the teeth due to periodontal disease.

Other conditions that can simulate tooth pain include:

  • A periodontal abscess, or a serious bacterial infection of the gums.
  • Swollen gums around a tooth, such as can be experienced when wisdom teeth come in.
  • Pain in the upper jaw from sinusitis.
  • An injury to the temporomandibular joint, where the jaw is attached to the skull.

How to Treat a Toothache if You Can’t See Your Dentist Right Away

While a toothache that lasts more than two days should be checked out by a dentist, the following steps can reduce discomfort until you can see your dentist:

  • Rinse the affected area with a warm, not hot, salt–water solution of one teaspoon of salt dissolved in eight ounces of warm water.
  • Gently floss the affected teeth to remove any trapped food particles.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Consult a doctor for specific needs or for children.
  • Never apply any painkiller, like aspirin, directly against the teeth or gums as it may result in burning the gum tissue.
  • Apply an over-the-counter analgesic with benzocaine directly to the aching tooth and gum to relieve pain temporarily. Oil of cloves can also be used to help to numb the gums.
  • If the area has experienced trauma, an ice pack may be applied to the outside of the cheek to help relieve pain or swelling. If tooth has been knocked out, visit a hospital emergency room immediately.

When to See Your Dentist

If your toothache persists for more than 48 hours, visit a dentist as soon as possible, as the longer it goes untreated the worse it will get. If your toothache is left untreated a dental abscess will often be the result.

For more information about toothaches, or to schedule an appointment, please contact the office of Dr. Larry D. Molenda, D.D.S. located in San Marcos, TX.