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Common Causes of Tooth Pain and What You Can Do Before You See Your Dentist

Strobel Dentistry

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Why does my tooth hurt?

There is no question more pressing when you are in pain, and it’s often a hard one to answer. Tooth pain can be attributed to a number of factors, but here are the most common:

  • Decay - as decay eats away at the outer structures of the tooth, the dentin or underlying tooth structure becomes exposed, causing increasing pain.
  • Infection - of the tooth or of the gums, either can cause pain in a tooth. A deep and severe infection of a tooth can result in an abscess or destruction of the nerve and may necessitate root canal therapy.
  • Trauma/Fracture - a break in an existing filling or natural tooth can expose sensitive tooth structure, causing sensitivity and pain. Sometimes a fall or other trauma may not fully break the tooth, but can cause internal fracture or damage that will cause similar pain.
  • Teeth Grinding (bruxism) - this is a sneaky one, since you may not even know when you grind your teeth! Consistent clenching and grinding of the jaw can result in pain and, in severe cases, tooth fracture.
  • Sinus problems - an unexpected side effect of sinus pressure/infection is tooth pain! When swollen, the sinuses can press down on the top teeth and cause generalized discomfort of the upper teeth.

Are there home remedies for tooth pain?

The best and safest bet when experiencing tooth pain, especially sudden or unexplained, is to make an appointment to see your dentist. There are, however, a few things you can try to ease your discomfort while you’re waiting to get into the office:

  • Avoidance - if it’s broken, don’t use it! When temperature, sugar or pressure cause pain in your tooth, avoid chewing on that side to relieve some discomfort.
  • Saltwater rinse - this is a great stop gap solution before you see your dentist - a warm saltwater rinse can reduce pain, swelling and flush out debris. ½ tsp to 8 oz water is a good ratio - make sure to spit this out and not swallow. You can also follow this up with some gentle flossing to remove and stuck food that might be exacerbating the issue.
  • Ice - helpful only in cases of swelling, ice can effectively numb the area and reduce inflammation. Try an ice pack on the cheek or a small amount of wrapped ice directly on the tooth.  Note ice will make pain worse in cases of large cavity or temperature sensitivity.
  • Painkillers - when in doubt, an over the counter painkiller containing ibuprofen or acetaminophen should help dull the pain until you can have the issue addressed. Make sure you take these as recommended and DO NOT put them directly on the tooth as some home remedies suggest - not only will that not help, it will damage the surrounding tissue!
  • Clove Oil - for those who prefer more homeopathic pain relief, place a small amount of clove oil onto a cotton ball and hold the cotton against the affected tooth until the pain subsides. Clove is a natural anesthetic and will help to numb the nerve.
  • Hydrogen peroxide - this might not take the pain fully away, but hydrogen peroxide is a proven germ fighter, and rinsing with a mix of peroxide and water will aid in killing offending bacteria and flushing out debris.

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