A sharp, throbbing ache sweeps through your mouth, as the pain from your toothache reaches unbearable levels. You’ve tried gargling with salt water, have applied a cold compress, and even brewed yourself some peppermint tea, yet despite this and the over-the-counter painkillers you took an hour ago, the twinging remains. If your painkillers aren’t working for your toothache, you may be wondering if you’ve even taken the strongest toothache medicine available, and if you have, what you’re supposed to do about the pain. Let’s jump in and look at the advice directly from dentists on the reasons for toothaches, potential complications, available medicines, and what to do next.
9 Reasons You May Be Experiencing A Toothache
Without a trip to the dentist, figuring out why your tooth is aching is going to be tough to do. While you may be able to tell how severe the pain is on a scale of mild to extreme, knowing the root cause can be tricky if you’re not well-informed on the health of your teeth. Your toothache could be caused by a number of different reasons:
1. There is tooth decay present. Tooth decay or cavities are caused by a buildup of plaque, which contains bacteria that attacks your teeth’s enamel. Sugary and acidic foods/beverages can also erode away at your enamel, leading to a weakened and damaged tooth. As bacteria thrives in this weakened area, the tooth becomes vulnerable to decay, as the enamel can no longer protect the tooth or its nerve endings. As a result, you can experience toothaches from hot and cold foods/beverages, and sharp, painful sensations if the decay reaches down to the roots of your teeth.
2. You have an infection or abscessed tooth. If you have a bacterial infection in the gums, or an abscess - which is an infection at the base of your teeth’s roots - you can experience a very painful toothache. Signs of this include hot/cold sensitivity, visible swelling in your gums, swollen lymph nodes, and a bad taste in your mouth. If left untreated, this can spread to other areas of the body and cause serious complications.
3. A tooth has been injured. If you’ve recently experienced trauma or an injury to the head, face, or jaw, then an injured tooth could be the cause of your toothache. If the injury damages the nerve endings and tissue around the area, this can lead to inflammation, pain, and discomfort. If you don’t notice that a tooth has been injured, and infection sets in, this can also lead to a toothache.
4. You have gingivitis/gum disease/periodontal disease. If you have gingivitis, gum disease, or periodontal disease, toothaches are a symptom, as these conditions often lead to inflammation, pain, and swelling in affected areas. If not managed well or left untreated entirely, these conditions can cause infection in the jawbone, gum tissue, and tooth structures, leading to severe pain and discomfort.
5. You grind/clench your teeth a lot/at night or when stressed. Teeth grinding/clenching is often caused by stress or anxiety tension, but if you suffer from bruxism, you may be no stranger to waking up with toothaches. The repetitive action of clenching/grinding your teeth wears down the teeth’s enamel, causing damage to the nerves inside, which leads to pain, irritation, and swelling.
6. You’ve recently had dental work completed. Dental work, while it’s there to fix the root problem, can cause sensitivity and irritation to the nerves afterwards. This may result in a temporary toothache that dwindles over time. However, if you have received a filling or crown, and the pain remains for more than a few days, you’ll need to get a dentist to rule out any underlying issues.
7. You never had your wisdom teeth removed. If your wisdom teeth become impacted, meaning that they cannot erupt from the gums properly, this can lead to pain and inflammation as they push against your other teeth. In some cases, they may press against nerves, resulting in a toothache.
8. The root surfaces of your teeth are exposed. If you’ve been told that your gums are receding (gum disease), you may have the root surfaces of your teeth exposed. This exposure leads them susceptible to decay, sensitivity, and infection - and toothaches if not addressed.
9. You have chronic sinusitis. When your sinuses become inflamed and blocked, it creates a buildup of fluid in the sinus cavity. This puts a lot of pressure on the nerve endings in your teeth, leading to pain and discomfort. You may also feel sensitivity to hot and cold temperature as well, and if you had a toothache prior to a bout of chronic sinusitis, then your pre-existing toothache will be aggravated further.
Best OTC Painkillers for Toothaches As Recommended By Dentists
While finding relief from toothaches is difficult, the right combination of over-the-counter medications can help dull the pain and make it bearable until you can get yourself to the dentist. Here are some of the best pain relief options recommended by dentists for toothache sufferers:
1. Use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve), as these will block the enzyme that causes your gums to become tender, red, and swollen. For mild pain, 200 mg - 400 mg will work, as will a slightly higher dose of 600 mg. However, never exceed the dosages stated on the label without express permission from a dentist.
2. If you find that the painkillers aren’t working for your toothache, it may be because your pain is too severe for one type to offer the relief you need. You can try combining 1 NSAID, with 1, 325 mg - 500 mg acetaminophen for extra relief. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), generally targets inflammation, the precursor to pain. Again, though, don’t exceed dosages stated on the label without an express go ahead from your medical provider.
3. Another option is to try Advil Dual Action, which combines ibuprofen and acetaminophen together that works against mild pain. It is a safe and effective method for finding pain relief after minor dental surgery like simple tooth extractions.
However, if you have a moderate to severe toothache or infection, these OTC may not be enough. The strongest toothache medicine available is through narcotic-based pain meds. But prescription medications come with a whole host of side effects, including nausea, drowsiness, fuzzy-headed, and carries the risk of addiction, and overdosing. If you are in unbearable pain, where OTC’s, cold compresses, and numbing creams are not cutting it, then it’s time to seek immediate medical attention.
What Are The Possible Complications of Toothaches?
If you have a toothache, this is often a sign of something more serious going on like major tooth decay, an infection in the gums, or the development of gum diseases. But, if the toothache is left untreated, this can lead to further complications that may seriously impact your health, such as bone and tissue loss, recurrent infections and abscesses, and the need for root canals or tooth extraction. If you have an infection that’s causing your toothache, and you delay long enough, you risk the following:
- The bone surrounding the tooth becomes infected - osteomyelitis.
- The blood vessels within your sinuses become infected - cavernous sinus thrombosis.
- The infection spreading to other areas of the face, neck, and back of the mouth.
In rare cases where the toothache is caused by a severe infection, it can result in sepsis - where the bacteria from the infection spreads to other parts of the body.
Why You Should Schedule a Dental Appointment, Now.
When it comes to toothaches, even if you find that you can manage it with OTC painkillers, we urge you to seek out professional dental assistance. While OTC’s can help dull the pain, they don’t tackle the underlying problem, which will only grow worse the longer it’s delayed. Here at Family, Implant, and Cosmetic Dentistry, we can run you through a thorough examination and diagnosis process, to get to the root of your toothache and provide you with a treatment that will give you long-lasting relief.