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Understanding Toothaches: Causes and Treatment Options

Understanding Toothaches

One of the most common dental issues many people will experience in their lifetime is a toothache. If you have had one before you know how painful they can be. A toothache has the power to interrupt your ability to complete normal daily tasks like going to work, chores around the house, etc. The pain can be truly agonizing. 

Let us offer some relief by delving into more information about toothaches which includes common causes, temporary relief options and long term treatment options.

Understanding Toothaches: What Causes Them?

Toothaches can be caused by a wide range of oral health issues. Therefore, pinpointing the exact source of the pain is crucial for effective treatment. Here are some common causes of toothaches:

1. Dental Cavities

Dental cavities, or tooth decay, are one of the most prevalent causes of toothaches. When plaque and bacteria erode the enamel, the protective outer layer of your teeth, it exposes the sensitive dentin underneath. This exposure can lead to sharp, throbbing pain, especially when eating or drinking hot, cold, sweet, or acidic substances.

2. Gum Disease

Gum disease, such as gingivitis and periodontitis, can cause toothaches. When gum tissue becomes inflamed and infected, it can result in gum recession, exposing the tooth roots. This exposure can lead to heightened sensitivity and discomfort in the affected teeth.

3. Dental Abscess

A dental abscess is a pocket of pus that forms within the tooth or in the surrounding tissue due to a bacterial infection. Abscesses are often accompanied by severe, constant, and throbbing pain. They require immediate dental attention as they can lead to serious complications if left untreated. The sooner they are treated the better as a dose of antibiotics may be needed to decrease the severity of infection before treatment, like a root canal, can be performed.

4. Tooth Fractures or Cracks

Cracked or fractured teeth can cause intense pain, especially when biting or chewing. These fractures may not always be visible to the naked eye, and a dentist’s evaluation is crucial to identify and treat them properly.

5. Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity, often triggered by exposed dentin or receding gums, can cause sharp, fleeting pain when exposed to temperature extremes or sweet, sour, or acidic foods and beverages.

Finding Temporary Relief From a Toothache

When a toothache strikes, finding relief becomes a top priority. Here are some home remedies and immediate actions you can take to alleviate toothache pain temporarily until you can seek dental treatment:

1. Rinse with Warm Salt Water

Gargling with warm (not hot) salt water can help reduce inflammation and ease discomfort. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water and swish it around your mouth for about 30 seconds before spitting it out.

2. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Non-prescription pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can provide temporary relief from toothache pain. Follow the recommended dosage instructions, and consult a healthcare provider if you have any concerns or existing medical conditions.

3. Cold Compress

Applying a cold compress to the outside of your cheek for 15-20 minutes can help numb the area and reduce swelling, providing relief from the pain.

4. Clove Oil

Clove oil contains eugenol, a natural anesthetic, and can be applied topically to the affected tooth using a cotton ball. However, use it sparingly and avoid contact with the gums, as it can cause irritation.

5. Dental Wax

If a sharp or jagged edge of a broken tooth or a dental appliance is causing irritation, dental wax can be used to cover the rough area temporarily.

While these home remedies may offer temporary relief, it’s essential to remember that they do not address the underlying cause of the toothache. Seeking professional dental care is crucial to resolve the issue permanently.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Toothaches

The treatment for a toothache depends on the underlying cause. Below you will find the most common treatment options once the cause of your toothache is determined:

1. Dental Fillings

For toothaches caused by cavities, dental fillings are the most common treatment. During this procedure, your dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and fill the cavity with a dental material like composite resin or amalgam.

2. Root Canal Therapy

When a toothache results from an infected or abscessed tooth, root canal therapy may be necessary. This procedure involves removing the infected pulp tissue, cleaning and disinfecting the tooth’s interior, and sealing it with a filling. Root canals are often falsely associated with pain; however, they are performed to relieve pain and save the affected tooth.

3. Extraction

In cases where a tooth is severely damaged or cannot be saved, extraction may be the only option. After extraction, your dentist may discuss tooth replacement options such as dental implants, bridges, or dentures.

4. Gum Disease Treatment

For toothaches caused by gum disease, treatment options may include deep cleaning procedures like scaling and root planing, antibiotic therapy, and improved oral hygiene practices.

5. Orthodontic Treatment

Toothaches resulting from misaligned teeth or a bad bite can often be resolved with orthodontic treatment, such as braces or clear aligners. Correcting the alignment of your teeth can alleviate pain and improve your overall oral health.

6. Desensitizing Toothpaste

If tooth sensitivity is the issue, your dentist may recommend using desensitizing toothpaste containing compounds like potassium nitrate or fluoride. These can help reduce sensitivity over time.

Preventing Future Toothaches

Prevention is your number one priority when it comes to toothaches. It’s far easier to prevent them from ever occurring than having to deal with them later. Here are some tips to help you maintain good oral health and reduce the risk of future toothaches:

  • Practice good oral hygiene by brushing twice daily and flossing at least one per day.
  • Regular dental check-ups, aiming to see your dentist 1-2 times per year for an exam.
  • Limit your consumption of sugary and acidic foods and beverages, as they can contribute to tooth decay. 
  • Opt for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and calcium-rich foods.
  • Use a mouthguard If you grind your teeth at night or participate in contact sports.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid excessive amounts of alcohol.

See Your Dentist

Toothaches can be extremely uncomfortable and while home remedies may temporarily ease the pain, you need to schedule an appointment to see your dentist. You cannot fully treat the toothache without understanding its cause.