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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. Tooth decay is often caused by poor dental hygiene. It may also be partly inherited.

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 may recommend antibiotics and other treatments, like a root canal for toothaches caused by a tooth abscess.

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.

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 may involve fillings, tooth removal, or a root canal, if the problem is severe. You may need to take an antibiotic for an infection.

References

Benko K. Emergency dental procedures. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014: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.

Review Date:2/22/2016
Reviewed By:Michael Kapner, DDS, general and aesthetic dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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