How to Deal With a Sore Tooth

Three Methods:Addressing Tooth Pain at HomeVisiting a Dentist for TreatmentAvoiding Future Tooth Pain

A sore tooth, or toothache, can be an annoyance or downright agonizing. Causes of a toothache can range from infections to mouth trauma, but tooth decay (a cavity) is the most common source of pain. While you need to be aware of the signs of a serious tooth problem and be prepared to contact a dental professional immediately, there are several at-home strategies for dealing with the common causes of a sore tooth. Of course, prevention is the best cure.

Method 1
Addressing Tooth Pain at Home

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    Determine the cause if you can. Tooth pain can sometimes be caused by something as simple as a bit of food wedged between two teeth or tooth and gum. If you can determine the source of your tooth pain, you may be able to alleviate it yourself at home.
    • In addition to food or debris caught in the teeth or gums, common causes of a sore tooth include: an infection of the tooth, root, or gums; mouth trauma that causes tooth damage; an emerging crack or split in the tooth; teething (in children); or a sinus infection that causes mouth pain.[1]
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    Remove debris if that is the cause. If you determine that food or other debris is the cause of your sore tooth, and you can remove it with care and without causing substantial additional pain, you might save yourself a trip to the dentist (and the subsequent bill).[2]
    • Rinse your mouth vigorously with warm water in an attempt to dislodge the debris.
    • Use floss to try to dislodge the debris. Dentists prefer this to using a toothpick or similar item, as they are more likely to damage the teeth or gums.
    • Contact your dentist if the debris cannot be removed and is causing significant pain.
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    Eat sensibly to prevent more pain. Particularly if your tooth pain is caused by a crack or chip, you should avoid eating foods that are too hot or cold, foods that can easily stick on or around teeth, and foods that can further damage a tooth.[3]
    • Save the jawbreakers and salt-water taffy for another time, and let your coffee cool down at bit. Sensitivity to cold items, such as a shaved-ice treat, can be particularly painful, especially if you follow a warm food item with a frosty one.
    • Take note of food types or temperatures that are causing pain, however, so that you can tell your dentist should you need to visit.
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    Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If your tooth pain is caused by tooth decay, injury, or infection, pain medication may alleviate your symptoms.[4]
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a pain reliever that is commonly used for toothaches.
    • Ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) also are pain relievers as well as anti-inflammatory drugs. You may benefit from an anti-inflammatory medicine if you have inflamed and sore gums.
    • Take the medication as directed. Never exceed the maximum dosage listed on the box during a 24 hour period.
    • Don’t apply an oral pain reliever like aspirin directly to the sore tooth or gums.
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    Try (with caution) an oral anesthetic gel containing benzocaine. Sold under brand names including Orajel and Anbesol, these medications can be applied directly to your sore tooth and the surrounding gums.[5]
    • Be careful of an allergy to a local anesthetic. Many people, historically, are allergic to ester-based local anesthesia, like benzocaine. If you think you might be allergic, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
    • This will provide temporary pain relief, but will not treat the root cause of your toothache.
    • Apply the gel to the affected area with your finger or a cotton swab.
    • Use medications with benzocaine sparingly, and never more often than directed on the packaging or by your dentist. Benzocaine can cause a condition called methemoglobinemia, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and can cause serious harm.[6]
    • Signs of methemoglobinemia can include bluish lips, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, light-headedness, and rapid pulse. Seek medical attention immediately if such symptoms are observed.
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    Try clove oil. Some dental professionals believe that the natural anesthetic eugenol present in oil of cloves can be effective at relieving discomfort associated with a toothache.[7]
    • Squeeze or drop a small amount of clove oil onto a cotton ball.
    • Rub this on your tooth and the surrounding gums.
    • This will provide only temporary pain relief at best.
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    Apply a cold compress to your cheek. This can be especially helpful if you have a toothache associated with a cracked tooth.[8]
    • Wet a washcloth with ice cold water and press it to your cheek.
    • Alternatively, you can use a gel ice pack. Wrap it in a cloth.
    • Apply the compresses for 15 minutes at a time.
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    Take care of teething children. Tooth pain in small children is most often caused by teething, the emergence of teeth that normally begins at four to seven months of age.[9]
    • It is not uncommon for teething to be accompanied by fever, rash, diarrhea, and fussiness. If symptoms are consistent, recurrent, or severe, contact the child’s physician.
    • Soreness due to teething can often be alleviated by gently rubbing the gums with a clean finger, the back of a chilled spoon, or a moist gauze pad. Chilled teething rings or pacifiers may also be helpful.
    • Do not use oral antiseptic gels containing benzocaine in children under two without the the consent of the child’s physician. Methemoglobinemia, a shortage of oxygen in the blood that can be caused by benzocaine, can be fatal to small children.

Method 2
Visiting a Dentist for Treatment

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    Know when to call a dentist. While tooth pain can often be at least temporarily alleviated at home, permanently fixing a sore tooth frequently requires the intervention of a dentist.
    • Call a dentist if any of the following are true: your symptoms have lasted for two days; you have tooth pain accompanied by fever; you have signs of infection (swelling, redness, odor or discharge from the site); or you have trouble breathing or swallowing. If any of these symptoms are severe, even if they have lasted for less than two days, seek medical help immediately.[10]
    • If your tooth hurts when you're chewing, you might have a crack on your tooth. If it's above your gum, it can be treated with a root canal. If it's below the gum, your tooth may need to be extracted.
    • If you don’t have a regular dentist, call one in your area. If you have a toothache, you should be able to be seen within a couple of days.
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    Do not delay if you may have an abscess. An abscess is an infection that has spread from a crack in the tooth into the pulp inside. From there, it can spread into the jaw and elsewhere, with possibly serious medical complications.[11]
    • In addition to pain, swelling, fever, redness in the gums, and a foul taste in the mouth can be signs of an abscess. Call a dentist if any of these symptoms accompany your sore tooth.
    • Seek medical attention immediately if you also experience any of the following symptoms: high fever, chills, vomiting, or dizziness. These can be signs of a severe dental abscess.[12]
    • In addition, seek immediate medical treatment if you experience an inability to open your mouth (if you can't fit one finger into it), difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, or gasping for air when you lay flat. These symptoms indicate that you might have a significant infection compromising your airway.
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    Go to your appointment and follow the dentist’s advice. Be ready to tell the dentist when your pain started, where the pain is most severe, and if you have any other symptoms.[13]
    • In addition to a visual inspection, the dentist may take x-rays, which can spot an abscess.
    • Take any and all medication prescribed by the dentist, according to his/her instructions. If you have an abscess, your dentist will probably prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection before the tooth can be fixed. [14]
    • Your dentist may also give you a prescription for a painkiller such as prescription strength acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or even hydrocodone.
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    Return to the dentist for follow-up treatment as needed. In the case of an abscess, the dentist will likely perform a root canal and crown. [15]
    • A root canal involves the removal of the infected pulp and the re-closure of the area in order to save the tooth.[16]
    • Root canals can be pricey, depending upon whether you have dental insurance, but they are not usually as painful as is often portrayed on television comedies, for instance.
    • Root canals can often take one to three office visits to complete. You will likely be fitted with a temporary crown after your root canal and need to return to the dentist for a permanent cap.
    • Your dentist might also give you the option of extraction, which is significantly less expensive.

Method 3
Avoiding Future Tooth Pain

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    Brush your teeth regularly. Keeping your teeth clean is the easiest way to reduce your chances of having tooth pain. If it’s already too late for that, you also don't want to worsen a cavity or abscess by allowing plaque and tartar to build up on your sore tooth.[17][18]
    • You should brush your teeth at least twice a day — once in the morning and again before bed.
    • Many dentists recommend using a soft bristled electric toothbrush to brush your teeth, but any standard toothbrush is preferable to none at all.
    • To brush your teeth effectively, put a pea sized amount of toothpaste on your toothbrush. If you have a toothache, you can try using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth.
    • Position your brush at a 45 degree angle towards your gums and teeth. Use small side to side strokes and brush the front, back, sides and tops of each tooth.
    • Make sure you hit all areas of your mouth as well, including your gums and tongue.
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    Floss your teeth regularly. It is nearly impossible to keep the tight spaces between teeth clean otherwise. Also, an existing toothache can be caused or aggravated by food and other debris getting stuck between your teeth.[19][20]
    • You should floss at least once a day — the time of day does not matter, nor does your choice to floss before or after brushing.
    • Using a piece of string floss or a floss pick, slide the floss through the space between each tooth.
    • Slide the floss down to the base of each tooth, getting under the gum line. Then slide the floss back and forth to loosen and remove food and debris.
    • Do this for all of your teeth.
    • If you dislodge a piece of debris and your toothache suddenly subsides, that may have been the cause of your pain.
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    Rinse your mouth out. Both commercial mouthwashes and home-made rinses can help keep teeth clean.
    • A salt water rinse can help temporarily reduce mouth bacteria, including those that can be associated with abscesses. Mix one-half teaspoon of table salt to one cup of lukewarm water, swish around the mouth, and spit out. Repeat several times per day as desired.[21]
    • Salt water rinses are commonly prescribed starting 24 hours after dental surgery.
    • In the mouthwash section of the drugstore, you’ll find both cosmetic and therapeutic mouthwashes. The former merely mask bad breath, while the latter (which are generally preferable) also treat problems like tartar and plaque buildup. Read the package labels for more information on each type/brand, and follow the instructions for use.[22]
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    Get regular dental check-ups. If you visit your dentist for regular cleanings, you may avoid ever having to visit him/her with emergency tooth pain.
    • Two cleanings per year is a common recommendation, and is often the frequency covered by dental insurance. Some people may need more frequent cleanings, however.[23]
    • Even if going to the dentist twice per year is a minor annoyance, it is far preferable to having major dental procedures done because of abscesses, for instance.
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    Protect your teeth. Even the cleanest of teeth will become painful if cracked, chipped, broken, or otherwise traumatized, so protection of the mouth and teeth is essential.[24]
    • Always wear an approved protective mouthguard when playing sports or engaging in other activities where injuries to the mouth or teeth are not uncommon.
    • Take special care — or avoid entirely — chewing on ice, popcorn kernels, hard candy, and other similar foods that can crack or chip teeth.
    • Never use your teeth to cut, tear, or separate anything that doesn’t belong in your mouth. Use scissors.

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Categories: Teeth and Mouth