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Toothache: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention

April 14, 2023

One of the most common reasons that people seek dental treatment is toothache. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 40% of adults in the United States experience a toothache each year. In this article, we’ll explain what a toothache is, some of the primary causes and symptoms, as well as how to treat and prevent this condition.

What is a Toothache?

A toothache is a dental issue characterized by pain in or around a tooth. The pain may range from very mild to excruciating.

Toothache Causes

A toothache occurs when the soft pulp of the tooth becomes inflamed or infected by bacteria. There are several potential causes for toothache:

Common Toothache Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms associated with toothache include:

  • Pain - may range from dull to sharp and throbbing, and may be constant or intermittent
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Swelling around the affected tooth
  • Foul odor/taste due to pus draining from infection

If you experience any of the above symptoms, seeking dental treatment right away is important.

Can a Toothache be Fatal?

Tooth pain isn’t fatal. However, if your toothache is due to an infection in or around the tooth, it may spread to other areas of your body. This can cause you to become sick, which could be fatal. Therefore, if you have a toothache that doesn’t clear up on its own, you should visit the dentist as soon as possible. Some clinics offer emergency office hours, which means you can get in any time of the day or night.

Can You Treat a Toothache at Home?

Any time you experience dental issues such as a toothache, it’s critical to seek professional treatment as soon as possible. However, there are some things you can do at home while you are waiting to get in.

  • Warm saltwater rinse: saltwater can help loosen any debris that is between your teeth, as well as reduce inflammation and act as a disinfectant
  • Hydrogen peroxide: a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution is effective for minimizing pain and inflammation
  • Cold compress: if you have pain and swelling, a cold compress can offer some relief
  • OTC pain relievers: OTC pain relievers can help reduce pain/inflammation
  • Clove oil: clove oil can numb pain and reduce inflammation
  • Vanilla extract: vanilla extract contains alcohol and antioxidants, which can numb the pain and facilitate healing
  • Peppermint tea: peppermint can offer soothing relief
  • Garlic: garlic contains allicin, which is an antimicrobial that can kill bacteria- it may also help with pain relief

While these at-home remedies can offer some relief, if your toothache is severe, lasts longer than 1 to 2 days, or you have a fever, earache, or experience pain when opening your mouth wide, you should visit the dentist as soon as possible. Some dental clinics offer emergency treatment.

How Does a Dentist Treat a Toothache?

When you visit the dentist with a toothache, they will start with an evaluation.

They will start by examining the affected area. This will help to determine what is causing your toothache. They will also ask you a few questions to help with determining the best course of treatment:

  • When did the pain start?
  • Where is the pain primarily located?
  • How severe is the pain?
  • Is there anything that makes the pain worse?
  • Is there anything that offers relief?

They will also go over your medical and dental history and take x-rays of the affected tooth. The dentist will use this information to create a personalized treatment plan to give you relief as soon as possible.

  • If the toothache is due to a cavity, the dentist will either fill the cavity- or will remove the tooth if the decay is too far advanced.
  • Many times, the dentist will try to salvage the structure of the tooth if possible, which means root canal treatment is required. This involves drilling a small hole in the tooth and removing the pulp. Then, the tooth is cleaned out and disinfected before being filled with a biocompatible material to give the tooth some strength. Finally, the dentist will close the tooth with a dental filling or will place a crown on it.
  • In some cases, a toothache may be due to food stuck between the gums and tooth, which means a deep cleaning may be necessary. This is often followed by periodontal therapy to reduce the inflammation in the gum.

If you have a fever and/or swelling in your jaw, the dentist may prescribe an antibiotic to kill the infection.

Tips for Preventing Toothache

The best way to prevent a toothache is by practicing proper oral hygiene habits, which include:

  • Brushing twice daily with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste
  • Flossing at least once daily- more if you get food or other debris stuck between your teeth
  • Visiting the dentist every 6 months for a comprehensive exam and cleaning

Let Arlington Dental Excellence Treat Your Toothache

If you are in or near Arlington, VA, let the professionals at Arlington Dental Excellence treat your toothache. Our dental team has years of experience and training to quickly get to the root of the problem and offer effective treatment. In most cases, dental insurance will cover toothache treatments, but if you do not have insurance, we do offer financing options.

We are located on Fairfax Drive in Arlington. Our office hours are Monday through Thursday from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Saturday from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM. We are available on Sundays for dental emergencies because we understand that dental issues don’t always wait until regular office hours.

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