What Should I Do If I Have a Toothache?

If you are in pain, we are here for you. Sooner or later, most people experience a toothache. Sometimes it may be a throbbing pain centered around one tooth, or it could be a more generalized ache. If you are currently experiencing either of these, you may wonder, “what should I do If I have a toothache?”

There are many things that can cause pain in the tooth or gums. The most important thing is not to ignore the pain and hope it goes away. When it comes to your oral health, the problems usually won’t heal themselves. For example, a simple cavity may cause pain. If you go to your dentist while it is small, a simple filling may completely resolve the problem and end the pain. If you ignore it, the cavity may get larger, causing more damage to the tooth’s structure, letting in more harmful bacteria, and causing even more intense pain. If left unchecked, you may need more specialized intervention, like a root canal or even, eventually, a tooth extraction. As endodontists, we want to save your natural teeth and stop the pain before it goes that far. 

If you have a toothache, your first step should be to schedule an appointment with your dentist. If it is after hours and you have symptoms of infection like a fever or swelling, you may want to seek emergency dental care. A doctor or emergency dentist can treat the primary infection, but you will still need to schedule an appointment with your dentist to treat the source of the problem.

This article isn’t a substitute for seeing your dentist; it is intended as an educational tool to help you make informed and empowered decisions about your health. Every mouth is unique, and that means there is a lot of variation in oral health; sometimes, figuring out the source of the pain can be difficult, even for professionals. Personalized care is essential to your oral health, and your whole body health.

Ways to relieve a toothache in the short term

If you schedule an appointment with your dentist due to some pain and don’t have signs of a serious infection, there are things you can do to find short-term relief from your toothache.

Try the following steps:

  1. Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater; this helps clean the affected area and reduces inflammation.
  2. Gently floss the tooth to remove any trapped food particles that might be causing pain.
  3. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to alleviate pain. Avoid placing aspirin directly on the tooth or gums.
  4. Use a cold compress on the outside of your cheek near the painful area to help reduce the swelling.
  5. Avoid hot, cold, spicy, or sweet foods, since they may exacerbate the pain. 

Remember, these are temporary measures. It’s essential to schedule an appointment with your dentist to determine the cause of the toothache and get proper treatment. The toothache is unlikely to get better on its own.

When to see a dentist for a toothache

We recommend you see your dentist right away for any kind of toothache or pain, especially if you don’t know what is causing it. Your dentist will examine you, learn the cause of your pain, and treat it. Sometimes that treatment may be easy; other times, it may require care from a specialist like an endodontist or oral surgeon.

Contact your dentist if you notice pain or other symptoms that meet some of the following criteria:

  • It lasts longer than a couple of days.
  • It does not go away when you take painkillers.
  • It gets better with painkillers but returns when they wear off (please avoid settling for reliance on painkillers; instead, have your dentist treat the root cause!)
  • It gets worse in response to hot or cold temperatures.
  • It gets worse with pressure from biting down.
  • You have sore, red gums.
  • It comes with a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Your cheek or jaw is swollen.

This list isn’t complete. If you have other concerning symptoms, contact your dentist.

Take your toothache seriously

Sometimes people think, “Oh, it’s just a toothache.” But a toothache is a way of letting you know that you need to pay attention. Dental pain is a sign that something is wrong, and most oral health problems just get worse if left untreated. The long-term answer to your pain is to see a dentist to treat the cause. It is also important to persist with pursuing treatment, even if the initial treatment your dentist recommends fails. Because everyone is different, the same procedure may not work in every circumstance but trust that your dentist or endodontist will use their experience and make recommendations to get you out of pain as soon as possible.

Teeth are more complicated than many people realize. Beyond what you see, there is a minuscule network of root canals inside each tooth. Cavities, decay, tiny fractures, and gum disease may let bacteria enter the roots. This results in pain and inflammation, and eventually more serious problems like bone loss, infection, intense pain, and tooth loss.

As endodontists, we treat severely damaged or diseased teeth. For example, a root canal is often the last and best alternative to losing the tooth. People often find that a successful root canal ends their pain completely. For this to happen, your dentist or endodontist must learn what is causing the pain or infection. There is a range of diagnostic tools, using advanced dental imaging, temperature or pressure tests, observation, and other tests, to figure out where the pain comes from and what is causing it. This knowledge helps your dental team recommend the best treatment for your needs.

When you have a toothache, the most important thing is not to ignore the pain. Heed its warning and see your dentist.

Next steps: schedule your appointment

Once you schedule your dental appointment, you have taken the best first step toward restoring health. If your dentist cannot identify the cause of your pain, you may need to see another dentist or even a specialist. If finances are tight, be sure to check your insurance coverage, and talk with your dentist about payment plans.

Sometimes a general dentist may lack the experience or tools to effectively treat your condition, especially if the cause is complex or uncommon. In these cases, seeing a specialist can be the best next step

Here at Ballantyne Endodontics, we know this first hand, having retreated thousands of patients after their initial treatment failed to resolve their issues. Also, our founder is not only a skilled, sought-after endodontist but also a patient who has experienced nearly every type of dental procedure there. As a young woman, she had a severe toothache that led to an infection. She ultimately found relief in the hands of a skilled endodontist, who provided the root canal that resolved her infection and took away the pain. Ever since then, she has committed her career to healing and saving teeth through endodontic treatment.

Consider seeing an endodontist if you have a toothache that persists after treatment, or if your dentist lets you know that you need a root canal or apicoectomy. Our practice focuses on finding the source of the pain, treating it, and saving your natural teeth. If you live in the Charlotte, NC, area, ask your dentist for a referral to Ballantyne Endodontics or call us for information.