Toothaches: Treatment, Home Remedies, and Causes
Toothaches are incredibly common dental issues that affect millions of Americans each year. While many people assume that toothaches are an automatic sign of cavities, this is not always the case.
Toothaches can be symptoms of several underlying conditions, including gum disease, jaw injuries, and more.
Let’s take a closer look at the causes of toothaches and various ways you can treat them at home or with a dentist’s assistance.
What Causes a Toothache?
Toothaches can be caused by several issues or chronic conditions. Here are some of the most common factors that can contribute to a recurring toothache.
Mouth or Jaw Injury
A mouth or jaw injury can lead to a toothache by either causing damage to the tooth itself or irritating the nerves underlying one or more teeth. A basic example is getting a cut on your gums beneath a tooth – if the cut is deep enough, it could irritate the nerves and lead to tooth pain.
Being hit in the jaw can also lead to tooth pain. In particularly severe cases, it’s possible to be hit hard enough that your tooth disconnects from its nerve even if it isn’t knocked out of your mouth, causing chronic pain.
Upper tooth pain in particular may be caused by a sinus infection. The sinuses are cavities behind your nose and eyes. You might occasionally suffer from sinusitis, which occurs when your sinuses are inflamed due to bacterial or viral infections.
The roots of your upper teeth are near your sinuses. Therefore, if they inflame, they may also irritate those roots and lead to toothaches.
An Abscess or Infection
Tooth infections or abscesses may also lead to recurring toothaches. An abscess or infection can be caused by a physical injury or by a cavity that has progressed too far.
Over time, a cavity exposes the roots and nerves of your teeth, leading to irritation, sensitivity, and painful aches. This is just one big reason why it’s important to maintain optimal dental hygiene as well as you can.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)
TMJ disorders affect the temporomandibular joint, which is a kind of sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to your greater skull. There's one joint on either side of your jaw. If you have a disorder in this area, your jaw joint may feel pain, and surrounding tooth nerves – especially in the back molars – may also feel pain as a side effect.
TMJ disorders can be caused by any number of things, including genetics, jaw injuries, or even arthritis.
Gum disease may also cause toothaches. The roots and nerves of your teeth are buried in the gums, so any bacterial or viral infections that affect the gums can lead to tooth sensitivity and recurring aches.
Grinding Your Teeth at Night
Also called bruxism, grinding your teeth at night can lead to recurring tooth pain. By clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth together, you overstimulate the nerves and roots and may even wear down your teeth's enamel over time.
If this occurs, the roots and nerves can become more sensitive and inflamed. A toothache may result.
How Do I Get Rid of a Toothache?
Although there are lots of different ways in which you might get a toothache to begin with, there are also many ways to get rid of toothaches without having to get rid of an aching tooth overall.
Take Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or Aspirin
Common painkiller medications like ibuprofen or aspirin can be effective choices for getting rid of toothaches. These medicines and others like them use a key active ingredient called acetaminophen, which is a pain-relieving compound that can also reduce inflammation.
However, these treatments must be used repeatedly to keep pain down, and you have to be careful not to overdose.
Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse
You might also use a 3% solution with hydrogen peroxide to reduce pain and inflammation in your mouth. While you can dilute a hydrogen peroxide solution, you’re better off using a mouthwash with hydrogen peroxide as one of many mouth-healthy ingredients, such as Supersmile’s Oral Rinse.
This can get rid of certain types of bacteria and viruses and help to soothe gum or tooth inflammation.
Use Numbing Pastes
Numbing pastes can work similarly by directly numbing the nerves of your gums or teeth. You can get numbing pastes at local pharmacies or grocery stores, or your dentist may prescribe a stronger numbing paste if your toothache has become almost unbearable.
Use an Ice Pack
An ice pack or cold compress can do the job as well. Like a numbing paste, icy implements soothe the nerves by cooling them down and constricting the tissues in the immediate area. By stamping down on nerve signals in the gums or teeth, your toothache pain should be at least partly alleviated.
Ice packs can be applied to the outside of your mouth or the jaw. Some people have success sucking on ice cubes as well.
Avoid Acidic, Cold, or Hard Foods
In the meantime, you should take steps to avoid any overly acidic, cold, or hard foods in your diet. All of these food types can exacerbate toothache symptoms.
Acidic foods can wear down tooth enamel and further expose the roots of your teeth to pain and inflammation. Overly cold foods can exacerbate tooth sensitivity, especially when they touch your teeth directly instead of the gums below.
Hard foods are similar, as they are capable of inflaming the nerves of your teeth when your teeth crunch down on tough food items.
When Should I See My Dentist?
If your toothache doesn’t go away on its own, it may be time to see a dentist. Here are a few ways you can know when it’s time to schedule an appointment.
Fever or Headache
A toothache that occurs in conjunction with a fever or a headache is a sign of a deeper infection that your body has detected and is trying to fight off. A headache may be a sign that the virus or bacteria have reached your sinuses (leading to sinusitis), while a fever is the body’s natural response to infection.
Trouble Swallowing or Breathing
If you have difficulty swallowing or breathing, there may be bacteria or viruses in your throat tissue. This can lead to immediate medical emergencies, so you should schedule an appointment with your dentist and/or a doctor as soon as you can.
Pain That Lasts More Than Two Days
Minor toothaches aren’t always big deals. But if your toothache lasts for more than two days straight, it may be a sign of a deeper underlying condition like a cavity or a rotten tooth.
Abnormally Red Gums
Gum disease can be detected in part through abnormally red gums. This may be a sign that you need antibiotics or more intense dental treatments.
Pain When You Bite
Recurring pain when you bite any kind of food, not just hard or cold foods, is a sign that your toothache is a symptom of a deeper root cause.
Off-white discharge in your mouth may be due to bacterial build-up or another sign of a deeper infection. Schedule an appointment with your dentist ASAP.
What Can a Dentist Do for Tooth Pain?
When you visit your dentist, they’ll be able to provide several types of procedures or treatments depending on what you need.
If your toothache is caused by one or more cavities, your dentist can take care of those cavities by drilling away any remaining infected tooth matter, then filling in the spot with a resin or metallic filling. A filling prevents an infection from taking hold in the same place again.
If your cavity or other toothache condition has progressed too far, however, your dentist may need to extract the tooth and remove it entirely. Your tooth will either be replaced or your teeth will be left to progressively close the gap.
A root canal is an in-between procedure from a cavity and a tooth extraction. With a root canal, your dentist will drill through the top of your tooth and remove any infected pulp in the affected tooth. Then they will fill in the drilled area with resin and place a protective cap over the tooth to prevent further infections.
If your toothache is related to something else, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to take care of the bacteria causing the toothache.
Ultimately, it’s important to pay attention to any toothaches you get, as tracking your progress will let you know when it’s appropriate to contact a dentist.
In the meantime, you can double down on your dental hygiene routine by checking out Supersmile’s oral hygiene products.