The reasons for dental pain can range from a seed stuck in a molar to a serious infection that needs surgery. So if you’re experiencing pain in a tooth, make an appointment with your dentist to have it checked out. Delaying care could mean you will need more extensive — and expensive — care, says Efrain Coronado, DDS, a dentist who practices in Tucker, Georgia.
Emergency Dental Care
Dr. Coronado says a toothache should always be evaluated by a dentist as soon as possible. If the pain occurs during the weekend, a holiday, or in the middle of the night, call your dentist’s office to see if an answering service can refer you to an emergency dentist. Alternatively, a dentist from the practice may take the call and be able to prescribe you an antibiotic, if an infection is suspected. But even if that takes care of the pain, you should follow up with an in-person appointment as soon as you can to address the underlying issue.
Another option is to look online for an emergency dental clinic near you. If there’s no nearby clinic, your dentist doesn’t take emergency calls, and the pain is excruciating, consider going to the emergency room for pain relief, says Coronado. But know that you will still need a follow-up appointment so a dentist can examine and treat the dental problem.
Home Care While You Wait for Your Appointment
If your dentist appointment is a few hours or a day away and you’re feeling pain, there are a few things to do at home that can reduce the discomfort.
For one thing, pain from a cavity, broken tooth, or exposed nerve can be made worse by cold foods or drinks, so avoid those. And try not to chew on the tooth that hurts so you don’t make the pain worse.
Pain relievers can be effective, but you only want to use them short term. Popping them for days could make the pain feel better but also keep you from getting to the dentist to find, and treat, the cause of the pain. Pain relievers can also have negative side effects when taken over an extended period.
A saltwater solution can help gently rinse away food particles that are stuck between your teeth, which may be causing the pain, says Howard Pollick, MPH, bachelor of dental surgery, a professor of preventive and restorative dentistry at the University of California in San Francisco.
Mix ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water, swish the saltwater in your mouth for about 30 seconds, then spit it out. This can be repeated two or three times a day and will also help reduce discomfort from canker sores and inflamed gums.
If you’ve had an injury, such as a fall that included a blow to the mouth, a cold compress can help blood vessels near the injury constrict, which can reduce pain. Wrap ice or a cold pack in a towel and apply to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Repeat the application over several hours.
Tea Bags to Stop Bleeding
Tea bags with black tea contain tannins, which can help stop bleeding in the mouth and may also reduce swelling. This can help relieve pain before your scheduled dentist appointment as well as after an extraction or procedure.
If after a tooth is pulled some small amount of bleeding continues, says Dr. Pollick, biting down gently on a moistened tea bag for 5 to 15 minutes creates pressure to help reduce the swelling and allow blood clotting.
“But if after trying this a few times you see the bleeding is getting worse, call the dentist for guidance,” Pollick says.
Don’t Stop With Home Care
Linda Rasubala, DDS, PhD, an associate professor of clinical dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, says, “a tooth doesn’t just hurt for no reason.”
Even if your toothache improves with home care, she advises getting the pain checked out by a dentist. Pain in a tooth could be a warning sign of tooth decay or an abscess, which require treatment before those issues get worse, says Dr. Rasubala.