Help On How To Effectively Manage Toothache

Our dental health is something that we can sometimes take for granted, until that is, we experience toothache.  The pain and discomfort can be all consuming and radiate outwards causing pain in our ears, head, gums and even cause temperatures and swelling. Most of us have experienced toothache at some point in our lives; whether it’s extra sensitive when having a cold drink or an excruciating pain that keeps you up all night. Either way, it’s unpleasant, painful and unwelcome; but the good news is with a great and consistent oral hygiene routine, it can be minimised.

When toothache does strike it is always recommended to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to diagnose the issue, treat the problem if needed and prevent it from happening again.

How do we get toothache?

Toothache can result from a multitude of reasons.  However, the four most common causes of toothache include:

Tooth Decay - The majority of toothaches are caused by tooth decay; sugars that eat at the tooth and reach the pulps (the soft inside of your tooth) that contain nerves and pain receptors. These receptors are linked to your brain which converts a nerve signal to pain.

Sensitivity - Sensitivity can feel a sudden shooting pain during or after eating / drinking something that is hot, cold or sweet. The main cause of sensitivity is loss of enamel, exposing the under-layer called dentine, which can be more sensitive to changes in temperature. Exposure of dentine occurs in a number of ways:


  • Having a broken or cracked tooth, or having a hole as a result of tooth decay.
  • Brushing teeth too hard can wear away gums and tooth enamel
  • Certain foods and drinks can cause acid erosion (fizzy drinks, alcohol and citrus foods)
  • Receding gums can expose the root, either caused naturally or by gum disease

Trauma – Falling over, car accidents, fighting, eplieptic seizures and impact during some sorts are all common examples where excessive force can be applied that can cause you to chip your tooth.  You can take steps to protect your teeth if you take part in various sports, and wearing a mouth guard can go a long way in giving you the protection you need.  This is something to consider if you play sports that invovle bats, balls, sticks or involve person-to-person contact.

Bruxism (Teeth Grinding) - The act of clenching or grinding your teeth during the night or day can leave you with toothache, jaw ache and possible headaches too. The cause of teeth grinding is not always clear, but it can be linked to periods of stress, anxiety or sleep problems.  If you do experience teeth grinding it is important to raise and discuss this with your dentist as soon as possible as over time you may cause damage your teeth through persistent grinding.  Treatment can include a special mouth guard that protects your teeth whilst you sleep.

Symptoms of a toothache include:


  • Tooth pain: can be sharp or dull, constant or intermittent and tender to touch
  • Swelling around the tooth/gums
  • Fever or headache
  • Bad taste

How can we relieve toothache at home?

There are some simple treatments you can carry out at home to try and relieve the symptoms of toothache:


  • Take painkillers such as anti-inflammatories or paracetamol.
  • Rinse with warm salt water
  • Use temporary filling kit from the pharmacy
  • Use cold compress
  • Use clove oil
  • Avoid eating / drinking hot, cold and sweet foods that may aggravate the pain.

If you are looking after a child experiencing toothache remember that children under 16 should not take Asprin.  Your local pharmacist can always help guide you in respect of pain relief options.

When should I see a dentist?

You should contact your dentist as soon as possible if you have had:


  • Trauma
  • Toothache for more than one day
  • Severe toothache
  • Swelling
  • Trouble opening your mouth wide

Even if toothache is relieved with home remedies, there is usually an underlying issue that remains, and seeing a dentist to diagnose the problem can prevent the pain returning.

What happens when I go to the dentist with my toothache?

Your dentist will first obtain your medical history, and ask you questions about your issue such as when did it start, how bad is the pain and what makes it worse, etc. The dentist will then carry out an examination of the problem and may take an x-ray and use other tests to help with their diagnosis.

What treatments are available for toothache?

Treatment options available are dependent on the nature of the toothache. On occasions of a broken tooth, a filling may suffice. However, with more severe cavities, root canal treatment may be required or to have the tooth removed. Your dentist will go over the options, explaining the procedure, risks and benefits prior to consenting to treatment. If the infection is severe or spread, antibiotics may be prescribed according to the NICE guidelines.

How can toothache be prevented?

Most toothaches manifest due to tooth decay, so the priority is to prevent tooth decay occurring and progressing.

Great oral hygiene practice can help prevent toothache. This includes brushing twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride and flossing regularly or even using interdental brushes as part of your daily teeth cleaning routine. Flossing helps remove plaque from forming along the gumline, therefore reducing the risk of gum disease and bad breath.  It also facilitates cleaning in between the teeth, and accounts for about 40% of the work required to remove plaque and bacteria from your teeth.

Regular check-ups with your dentist and visits with your hygienist will help in ensuring excellent oral hygiene and ensure professional monitoring of your overall oral health. In addition, maintaining a balanced healthy diet whilst reducing large amounts of sugar will keep your teeth and gums healthy and reduce the risks associated with tooth decay.  Some simple swaps in your dietary intake can help reduce the risk of tooth decay and the associated discomfort that toothache can bring.


Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Dr Keval Chavda - Kev The Dentist:

Dental Health

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