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Toothaches

Definition

A toothache is pain in or around a tooth.

Alternative Names

Pain - tooth or teeth

Considerations

A toothache is often the result of dental cavities (tooth decay) or an infection or irritation of the tooth. Tooth decay is often caused by poor dental hygiene. It may also be partly inherited. In some cases, toothache may be caused due to grinding teeth or other dental trauma.

Sometimes, pain that is felt in the tooth is actually due to pain in other parts of the body. This is called referred pain. For example, an earache may sometimes cause tooth pain.

Causes

A toothache may occur because of:

Home Care

You can use over-the-counter pain medicine if you can't see your dentist or primary health care provider right away.

Your dentist will first diagnose the source of the pain and recommend treatment. You may be prescribed antibiotics, pain medicines, or other drugs.

Use good oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay. A low-sugar diet is recommended along with regular flossing, brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and regular professional cleaning. Sealants and fluoride applications by the dentist are important for preventing tooth decay. Also, tell your dentist if you think you might grind your teeth.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek medical care if:

  • You have a severe toothache
  • You have a toothache that lasts longer than a day or two
  • You have fever, earache, or pain when opening your mouth wide

Note: The dentist is an appropriate person to see for most causes of toothaches. However, if the problem is referred pain from another location, you may need to see your primary provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your dentist will examine your mouth, teeth, gums, tongue, throat, ears, nose, and neck. You may need dental x-rays. Your dentist may recommend other tests, depending on the suspected cause.

Your dentist will ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, including:

  • When did the pain start?
  • Where is the pain located, and how bad is it?
  • Does the pain wake you up at night?
  • Are there things that make the pain worse or better?
  • What medicines are you taking?
  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as fever?
  • Have you had any injuries?
  • When was your last dental checkup?

Treatment will depend on the source of the pain. They may include removing and filling cavities, root canal therapy, or extraction of the tooth. If the toothache is related to trauma, such as grinding, your dentist may recommend a special appliance to protect the teeth from wear.

References

Benko KR. Emergency dental procedures. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 64.

Mehta NR, Scrivani SJ, Spierings ELH. Dental and facial pain. In: Benzon, HT, Rathmell JP, Wu CL, Turk DC, Argoff CE, Hurley RW, eds. Practical Management of Pain. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 31.

Travers JB, Travers SP, Christian JM. Physiology of the oral cavity. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 88.


Review Date: 2/5/2018
Reviewed By: Ilona Fotek, DMD, MS, Dental Healing Arts, Jupiter, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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