Toothaches are never welcome. They make eating and drinking harder. They can make you feel distracted and irritable and even interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. No wonder people have always tried to find ways to quickly and easily make toothaches go away.
You might think today’s dentists always dismiss folk medicine and home remedies. But when you want to know how to deal with tooth pain, some techniques grandparents teach their grandkids are worth remembering.
At Penn Dental Family Practice (PDFP), we want you to know as much as possible about how to deal with toothaches. You should know what causes them, and which home remedies could bring short-term pain relief until you can see a dental professional.
People experience tooth pain for many reasons, some more serious than others. Sometimes, the problem and solution are simple. For instance, if a small piece of food stuck between your teeth causes pain, grab some floss and remove the culprit. But at other times, the cause is more complicated, and potentially more serious.
To help explain why, here’s a quick review of dental anatomy:
In whole and healthy teeth, enamel—the tooth’s white, outer layer of calcified tissue—covers the dentin, the hard, mineralized tissue directly beneath. Dentin supports the tooth’s structure and contains microscopic hollow canals called tubules. Tubules connect to the tooth’s pulp, the mass of nerves and blood vessels at its center.
Though enamel is the toughest tissue in the human body, it isn’t indestructible. If you develop a cavity, that small hole in the enamel exposes dentin. Even if you don’t have cavities, your enamel could be thinning—another form of tooth decay that also exposes dentin.
In either case, once dentin is exposed, several stimuli—including hot or cold food and drink, direct pressure, even air blown over the tooth—can stimulate the pulp’s nerves through the tubules, causing discomfort and pain.
Receding gums (gingival recession) can also cause tooth pain. As gum tissue pulls away from the teeth, it exposes the tooth’s roots, which are inside the jawbone, anchoring the tooth in place. Cementum, the tissue covering the roots, isn’t as tough as enamel. It can rapidly decay or wear away when brushed. Tooth sensitivity can be an early symptom of exposed roots.
Other causes of tooth pain include:
In extreme cases, a toothache could be a warning sign of oral cancer. Most aren’t, but the possibility underscores the importance of seeking a professional to treat a toothache as soon as possible.
When experiencing a toothache, you may not always be able to see your dentist right away. Once you’ve made your appointment, here’s how to deal with toothaches in the meantime.
Try an over-the-counter pain reliever that can reduce inflammation, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Actually swallow it. Don’t believe the persistent myth that simply placing an aspirin on your tooth or gums will help. The pain relief ingredients must enter your bloodstream to block pain signals to your brain, and ingesting the pill is the fastest way to get them there.
Use an over-the-counter numbing gel to ease your discomfort. Think twice before using clove oil. While it does have pain relief properties, it isn’t recommended for infants or children, and can damage tooth pulp and gums. Instead of clove oil, consider applying pure vanilla extract (not artificial), which also has analgesic and antiseptic qualities.
Add a couple of ice cubes to a plastic bag, wrap the bag in a thin towel, and apply it outside your cheek near the toothache. The cold can help ease pain because it causes blood vessel constriction. The slowed blood flow can reduce inflammation.
Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water a couple of times a day can help relieve discomfort, reduce swelling, and fight off bacteria that cause infection. Be sure to use warm water only, not hot or cold, either of which could make your toothache hurt more. And don’t overdo your mixture. One teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water is sufficient.
While home remedies for tooth pain can be acceptable temporary fixes, making an appointment with your dentist is always the most effective way to deal with a toothache if you want lasting relief.
At PDFP, our dentists use state-of-the-art technology and patient-centered techniques to keep you and your family in good oral health. They’ll be able to diagnose the problem, resolve it, and help you take steps to keep your mouth healthy and happy.
For more information about the value of family dental care, download our free eBook, Does Generational Dental Health Matter? Why Dental Care Benefits My Whole Family Tree.
And if you’re dealing with tooth pain now, make an appointment online now, or call us at 215-898-PDFP (7337).