Like most people, you reach for ibuprofen or Tylenol when you have a headache or toothache. But what do you do when medication fails? Painkillers aren’t working for my toothache: what now? In this blog post, we will discuss some of the alternatives available to you when painkillers don’t work. We will also provide some tips on finding the right treatment when your teeth hurt.
- All about Toothache
- Causes of Toothache
- Ways to treat Toothache at home
- When to see the Dentist
- Toothache Treatments
All about Toothache
A toothache is a pain in or around a tooth usually caused by cavities, fractures, or gum disease. While you can solve many situations like these at home, some are dental emergencies that a dentist must treat.
The fastest way to stop a toothache at home is by taking ibuprofen (Advil) or another NSAID, like aspirin. NSAIDs are the best painkillers for toothache. But sometimes, if you have a toothache that lasts longer than 1-2 days, is severely painful, causes your face to sag, or is accompanied by fever, pain on opening your mouth, or an earache, painkillers won’t suffice. If this happens, contact your dentist right away.
Causes of Toothache
A toothache is any pain in or around your teeth that may be caused by:
- Tooth decay/cavities
- Dental abscess
- Fractured tooth
- Root sensitivity (exposed nerve)
- Bruxism/teeth grinding
- Damaged or lost filling
- Adult or wisdom teeth eruption
- Gum disease
- Sinus infection (sinusitis)
- Failed dental work
- Food stuck in teeth
Ways to treat Toothache at home
Many people who have experienced a toothache would swear that the first thing they do is to take analgesics to temporarily relieve pain. However, what else can you do if these over-the-counter pain meds don’t work? You can try the following methods to see if they work for you:
Using a cold compress may help ease the pain of a toothache.
Applying a bag of ice wrapped in a towel to the affected side of the face or jaw helps constrict the blood vessels in the area, which can reduce swelling and throbbing pain to allow a person to fall asleep.
Applying a cold compress to the area for 15–20 minutes every few hours in the evening may also help prevent pain when going to bed.
Pooling blood in the head may cause additional pain and inflammation. For some people, keeping the head elevated with an extra pillow or two may relieve the pain enough for them to fall asleep.
Some medicated ointments may also help reduce toothache pain. OTC numbing gels and ointments containing benzocaine ingredients may numb the area.
However, benzocaine is not suitable for use by young children.
A simple saltwater rinse is a common home remedy for a toothache.
Saltwater is a natural antibacterial agent, so it may reduce inflammation. This, in turn, helps protect damaged teeth from infection.
Rinsing with salt water may also help remove any food particles or debris stuck in the teeth or gums.
Hydrogen peroxide rinse
Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that generally occurs due to poor oral hygiene. It can cause issues such as soreness, bleeding gums, and teeth that come loose in their sockets. Studies showed that rinsing with hydrogen peroxide mouthwash helped reduce plaque and symptoms of periodontitis.
People should always dilute food-grade hydrogen peroxide with equal parts of water. Swish the solution in the mouth, but do not swallow it. This remedy is not suitable for children, as there is a risk they may accidentally swallow the mixture.
Swishing peppermint tea or sucking on peppermint tea bags may also help temporarily relieve pain from a toothache.
Researchers note that peppermint contains antibacterial and antioxidant compounds. Menthol, an active ingredient in peppermint, may also have a mild numbing effect on sensitive areas.
Eugenol, one of the main compounds in clove oil, can reduce tooth pain. A 2015 clinical trial indicated that people who applied eugenol to their gums and socket after having a tooth extracted had less pain and inflammation during healing.
Eugenol acts as an analgesic, which means that it numbs the area. To use clove for a toothache, soak ground cloves in water to make a paste. Then, apply the paste to the affected tooth. You can also put it in an empty tea bag and place it in the mouth.
Alternatively, gently chewing or sucking on a single clove and then allowing it to sit near the painful tooth may help relieve acute pain.
This is not a suitable remedy for children, as they may swallow too much clove. Single cloves can be spiky and painful if a person swallows them.
The antibacterial effect of garlic may help kill bacteria in the mouth. Garlic is a common household ingredient that some people use to relieve toothache and gum pain. Allicin, the main compound in garlic, has a strong antibacterial effect that may help kill the bacteria in the mouth that lead to cavities and tooth pain.
Simply chewing a clove of garlic and allowing it to sit near the tooth may help relieve dental pain. The taste of raw garlic can be too strong for some people, so this may not be the right solution for everyone.
When to see the Dentist
Don’t get us wrong. What we mentioned above are things you can do at home to manage the pain somehow, so you can sleep through the night or wait for your dental appointment. We strongly encourage everyone to see their dentist and treat a toothache as a situation that warrants an emergency dental appointment.
If your toothache won’t go away, it’s a sign that your dentist needs to identify the cause of your pain and correct it.
To diagnose the cause of a toothache, your dentist may:
- Perform a physical examination of your teeth, mouth, and gums
- Use an x-ray or cone-beam CT (CBCT) to look for areas of decay or abscess.
- Ask for details about your symptoms, such as the type, location, and severity of your pain, when it began, what makes it worse, and what offers you pain relief.
Once your dentist has determined what caused your toothache, they will prescribe treatment.
Depending on the root cause of your toothache, the treatment will differ. See a dentist as they are the only experts who can help you determine the appropriate solution to your discomfort.
Treatments for tooth pain include:
- Filling: A dental filling is used for small-to-medium cavities in which the infected tooth can be cleaned out while leaving the tooth root alive.
- Extraction: Your dentist may perform a tooth extraction to treat a fractured tooth, large cavity, or tooth abscess. In most cases, you will need to plan for a dental implant later to fill the space left behind.
- Wisdom tooth extraction: Particularly for impacted wisdom teeth (which cause a lot of pain), you may need wisdom teeth surgery to relieve the pressure causing pain.
- Root canal: A root canal may be performed when irreversible pulpitis occurs due to a large cavity and tooth abscess. Often, but not always, an excruciating toothache is a signal that you require a root canal or an extraction.
- Antibiotics: To shrink a large bacterial infection inside your tooth, your dentist (or an emergency room doctor) may prescribe antibiotics before your final dental procedure. This can also work for sinus infections and chronic periodontitis patients. Antibiotics do not cure toothaches or cavities; they temporarily reduce the size of the infection to diminish pain and allow for deferred treatment.
- Abscess drainage: For a gum abscess, your dentist may be able to drain, clean, and treat it for pain relief.
- Desensitizing toothpaste: If you suffer from tooth root sensitivity, you may be prescribed a toothpaste that may block some pain after multiple applications.
- Topical fluoride: Your dentist may prescribe a topical fluoride varnish and prescription fluoride toothpaste to rebuild enamel and strengthen your dentin if you have root sensitivity. However, consider hydroxyapatite toothpaste as an alternative, as it is just as effective as fluoride in many cases.
- Gum disease treatment: After a diagnosis of gum disease, your dentist may prescribe scaling & root planing (deep teeth cleaning), flap surgery, or pinhole surgery, depending on the extent of your concerns.
- Prescription mouthwash: Rinsing with a chlorhexidine mouthwash may be prescribed to kill the bacteria in your mouth and temporarily relieve toothache. This may lead to additional problems by disrupting your oral microbiome, so be sure to use oral probiotics afterward to rebuild a healthier balance of oral bacteria.
- Knotted floss: If you have food stuck between your teeth, knotting a piece of floss and pulling it through the space may be a quick and easy remedy for tooth pain.
- TMJ treatment: You may need to work with both your dentist and primary care provider (or another TMJ specialist) to correct the root cause of TMJ pain.
- Bruxism treatment: The treatment for bruxism ranges broadly, but sleep apnea is one of the most common causes. Talk to your dentist and doctor about getting a sleep study to determine if this is causing your toothache.
Toothaches can be some of the most severe pain you ever endure, but the good news is that they are almost always reversible with the right treatment. Most tooth pain happens due to cavities, and most cavity restoration procedures only require a day or two for recovery.
By following good prevention strategies and addressing a toothache as soon as it happens, you will be well on your way to pain-free living again.