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How to Treat a Severe Toothache

Updated on March 27, 2015
How to Treat a Severe Toothache
How to Treat a Severe Toothache

It keeps people awake at night, it prevents normal activity and it sometimes substitutes as an unwanted diet plan─ the stabbing, throbbing pain of a toothache. Temporary fixes like aspirin and other pain relievers may help, but the end result is usually a trip to the dentist.
Rarely does a person happily anticipate the dental visit. The thought brings to mind the sound of a drill and the quick glimpse of a needle. Toothache sufferers can ward off intense treatment by responding at the first hint of tooth pain.

When wondering how to treat a severe toothache, the obvious answer is to call a dentist. However, toothaches are like a pregnant woman’s labor, unpredictable. These nasty visitors often arrive in the middle of the night, on the weekends and during vacations and holidays. Perhaps the best way to treat a severe toothache is with education, pain relievers and the dentist’s emergency phone number.

What is a Toothache?

Pain emanating from the tooth or jaw area is commonly referred to as a toothache, even when the source is found to not be a tooth. Toothaches can range from mild and disappearing to severe and unbearable. When a severe toothache strikes, normal activities like chewing and drinking become intolerable.

Of course, the quickest way to get to the “root” of a toothache is to see a dentist. Sometimes, the pain is easily traced to the offending tooth or area of the mouth. However, other medical ailments can disguise themselves as toothaches. Patients suffering from heart disease, ear infections and sinus problems may believe they have a toothache because the pain mimics that of a toothache.

Common Causes of Toothache
Common Causes of Toothache | Source

What Causes a Toothache?

The most common cause of mouth pain is a dental cavity. Almost everyone during their lifetime experiences a cavity. Teeth have two outer protective layers called the enamel and the dentin. Enamel is white and hard while dentin is yellow and lies just under the enamel. These two important protectors guard the pulp, blood vessels and nerves from exposure. When diet and poor dental practices wear down these two layers, the inner tooth is exposed causing pain; this is known as a cavity. Sometimes the cavity is small, causing no pain and is caught during a routine cleaning. Other times, the exposure is great resulting in sharp pain when breathing or eating.

Gum disease is another source of toothache. Plaque and its resulting bacteria gather at the gum line. When left unchecked by poor dental practices, this bacteria invades the gums causing swelling, bleeding and even bone loss. By the time pain occurs, a patient has normally entered the late stages of gum disease. Bones in the mouth secure the teeth in place. When gum disease destroys these bones, tooth loss happens. Patients should respond to the early warning signs of bleeding and swelling.

Fractures of the teeth can also cause the pain associated with a toothache. Quite often, the cause of a tooth fracture is chewing on hard objects. Doctors use a die, painted on the tooth, to locate unseen fractures. The pain of a fracture normally occurs during chewing.
Other dental maladies like impacted teeth and normal tooth growth or “cutting” cause toothache. The molars, located at the rear of the jaw, are especially problematic and often result in toothache.

As previously mentioned, non-tooth related causes are mistaken for toothaches. Temporo-mandibular Joint pain, or TMJ, is a disorder of the jaw that sometimes masks itself as a toothache.

Dental Filling
Dental Filling

Possible Treatments

Since the most common cause of a toothache is a cavity, the frequent treatment is a filling. This mixture is used to fill in holes in teeth caught early. More advanced cavities may require a crown. Severe cavities, where the pulp is damaged, require root canals or removal of the tooth. During a root canal, doctors remove the destroyed pulp tissue in hopes of saving the tooth.

The patient suffering from the early signs of gum disease can stop the damage by learning proper care. Daily attention to the mouth, like brushing and flossing, can stop the onset of gum disease. Dentists use procedures called “root planning” and “subgingival curettage” to treat more advanced gum disease. Basically, this is a thorough cleaning of the teeth and roots as well as removal of surface tissue from the gums. Both treatments normally involve anesthesia and antibiotics. In severe cases of gum disease, removal of the teeth becomes necessary.

When a person visits the dentist with a cracked tooth, they often depart with a crown covering the tooth. An additional root canal is sometimes needed.
Doctors prescribe pain medication to relieve immediate pain and after intrusive procedures. However, over the counter pain relievers may help patients with low to moderate pain and can lessen severe pain.

Learning proper hygiene will ward off toothaches. Regular brushing with a cavity-fighting toothpaste, especially after meals, removes debris and plaque that cause decay. Flossing before brushing loosens food remnants that are whisked away by brushing and rinsing. Cleanings by a dental hygienist, at least annually, aid in the prevention of cavities and gum disease.

Home Remedies

As with many medical ailments, natural and home remedies for toothaches are out there. However, scientific proof of their effectiveness isn’t. Logically, the pioneer days (and earlier) offer some insight into natural and home remedies. In these early times, the local dentist did not exist. America’s common ancestor, the European, turned to herbs and healers to drive away tooth pain.

Pioneer America borrowed many remedies from their immigrant ancestors. From herbs like bayberry bark to homemade tooth powders, pioneers “made do” with what they could find. Even when local MD’s set up their offices, most early Americans could not afford their care. One must wonder how long these people suffered and if their homemade remedies eventually worked.

Believers in home and natural remedies follow the concoctions of the early pioneer. A pack made of Garlic and rock salt is said to relieve tooth pain as are butternut bark and tarragon leaves.

As dentists arrived on the scene, the public soon preferred their services. Americans became educated on proper hygiene and sought their help in relieving immediate tooth pain. After watching Tom Hanks heroic and desperate tooth removal in the movie Castaway, a trip to the dentist seems less intimidating.

© 2015 Discover the World


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      Open 2 years ago

      I have toothaches all the time. I know I need to go to the detsint but I keep putting it off because I don't have insurance and have an anxiety disorder on top of being afraid of the detsint. I live on ibuprofen (prescription dose) and various other tricks like rinsing my mouth in Hydrogen Peroxide and Camphophenique (learned these tricks from my mom) But they won't work forever. However, I've not had any redness or swelling. . . . yet. Right now I'm thinking I may have to call Monday *shudders*You probably don't need to go to your detsint right now as he probably won't do anything if there's an infection. That has to be cleared up first and can take a couple of weeks. Since you're having swelling which suggests infection, I would go to the local ER and see if you should be on any antibiotics and maybe any prescription strength Aleve or Advil. Try to stay away from the narcotic pain killers. They'll keep you awake and make you sick to your stomach. Even if they make the pain go away for a while you won't care if you're throwing up the entire time. It will take a few days but the antibiotics will help the pain more than anything else. When my dad had his really bad abscess last year, the detsint gave him vicoden which didn't seem to help him at all. In a few days though the pain got better as the antibiotics began to clear the infection. Sending you pain free thoughts