Toothache can take different forms; you may experience a dull, throbbing pain in your tooth or jaw, sharp pains when you eat or drink, or swelling in the affected area. The pain may be persistent or come and go. Symptoms can also include headache or fever.

Even if the pain subsides on its own, that doesn’t mean the issue has resolved itself. Toothaches often come back and are almost always a symptom of an issue that a dentist will need to address.

If you have toothache, you should see a dentist. Looking for a new dentist? Find your nearest Bupa Dental Care practice and get in touch.

Why you need to see your dentist

In many cases, toothaches are just one symptom of a bigger problem that can worsen if you don't seek treatment. They don't usually go away on their own. The longer you put off visiting your dentist, the more serious the problem could become.

When you visit your dentist, they'll examine your mouth to determine the cause of your pain and recommend the most suitable treatment. This may involve a filling, root canal therapy or treating your gums. Your dentist may need to remove the tooth to prevent further problems.

If you're experiencing discomfort, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as you can. Leaving a toothache could lead to an infection or cause irreparable damage to your teeth.

Always see a dentist if:

  • You experience toothache for two or more days.
  • You're in severe discomfort or pain.
  • You notice a pain in your ear, have a fever, or experience discomfort when opening your mouth.

Treatment for toothache

Depending on the cause of your toothache, your dentist may recommend one of the following treatments:

  • A filling - Fillings are usually recommended in the case of tooth decay and cavities.
  • A crown - If a tooth is too severely damaged for a filling, a crown may be placed over the whole tooth.
  • Treatment for gum disease - Inflammation of the gums due to a buildup of plaque below the gum line can also lead to tooth pain.
  • Root canal treatment - If the blood vessels and pulp inside the tooth have become damaged, you may need root canal treatment.
  • Tooth removal - Sometimes your dentist will recommend removing a tooth to prevent further infection.
  • Orthodontic treatment - Crowding and alignment problems can also lead to tooth pain and can be corrected with orthodontic treatment.
  • A mouthguard - If the pain is being caused by teeth grinding, your dentist may recommend a mouthguard at night.

Your dentist will assess your toothache and explain your options for treatment. If you would like further information, you can always contact your local Bupa Dental Care practice.

How can you relieve the pain of toothache?

If you can’t get to a dentist straight away, taking a painkiller can relieve some discomfort. Over-the-counter pain relief medication can ease the pain if it's distracting or you're finding it difficult to sleep.

You could also try gargling salt water. Salt water helps to remove bacteria from the mouth and can reduce swelling. Add about half a teaspoon of salt to warm water and gargle for at least five seconds. Take care not to swallow the water. Applying ice can help to numb the pain. Place a cold compress or ice pack against your cheek. Don't apply ice directly to your tooth, as toothaches often cause heightened sensitivity to temperature.

While you may be able to gain some temporary pain relief, it is still important to see a dentist. They will need to treat the cause of your toothache to eradicate the pain for good.

What causes toothache?

The most common causes of dental pain include:

  • Tooth decay – If plaque erodes the enamel surface of your tooth, this can expose the sensitive nerve endings within the underlying tooth structure (dentine) and can continue to infiltrate into the centre of the tooth reaching the pulp.
  • Gum disease – If plaque remains beneath the gum, it can damage the bone that supports your teeth and the roots of your teeth as well. This causes teeth to loosen and ache.
  • Abscesses – Tooth decay and gum disease can cause an abscess to form below or alongside the tooth root, which causes pain and spreads infection.
  • Trauma – If your tooth gets chipped or cracked, this can also expose the pulp and put you at risk of infection.
  • Impaction – If a tooth doesn't emerge fully from the gums, it can irritate the surrounding nerves, causing pain. This is most common with wisdom teeth and other molars.
  • Teeth grinding (bruxism) – If you grind your teeth at night or during the day, this causes the teeth to wear down over time exposing their sensitive middle layers, and can also strain the surrounding supporting structures.
  • Misaligned teeth – if your teeth are crooked or not properly aligned, this can cause uneven pressure in the mouth and may require orthodontic treatment.

Dental pain is usually a symptom of a more serious problem, so it's important that you see your dentist as soon as possible.

How can you prevent toothache?

Most cases of toothache are preventable. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, make sure you brush your teeth for at least two minutes twice a day, and floss at least once a day.

It’s also important to visit your dentist and hygienist regularly. Your hygienist can remove plaque and tartar from hard to reach places and from below the gum line, helping to avoid tooth decay and gum disease.

If you visit your dentist for regular check-ups, they may be able to spot and address a problem before it becomes painful.

If you have toothache, visit a dentist as soon as possible. Find your nearest Bupa Dental Care practice here:

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Dental Care Limited. Registered in England and Wales No: 00478127. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care, Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

Oasis Dental Care Limited has a number of trading names including Bupa Dental Care. For a list of all our different trading names please follow this link.

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