Coping with toothache


Many of us are familiar with the misery of toothache. Read on to find out how to help reduce the pain while you wait for that all-important dental appointment – and when to seek more urgent help.

Causes of toothache

There are two main causes of toothache: damage or decay in the tooth itself, and damage or infection of the surrounding gum. Both of these can lead to severe pain and swelling.

The kind of treatment you will need depends on how bad the pain is, the cause and any other symptoms you may have.

When to see your dentist 

Toothache of any severity needs to be investigated by your dentist. If you have a toothache that comes and goes, or is quite mild, don't be tempted to ignore it – make an appointment to have a check-up, as it may indicate a problem that could become more painful and severe if it's not treated.

See your dentist if:

• Your toothache lasts more than two days

• Your toothache remains even after taking a pain-relieving medicine

• You have a high temperature, pain when you bite, a bad taste in your mouth, or redness on your gum 

• You have toothache and your face is swollen around the affected tooth

These symptoms often indicate a problem that should be treated as soon as possible. Most dental surgeries offer emergency appointments. If the surgery is closed, it's still worth phoning as their answerphone message may give instructions on where to find an emergency dental service. 

Don't go to your Doctor with toothache, as they can't treat dental problems. However, toothache combined with other symptoms can occasionally point to a problem that needs urgent medical treatment. You should go to A&E if you have:

• Toothache combined with swelling around your eye, or in your neck

• Toothache combined with swelling that's affecting your ability to speak, swallow or breathe

Managing toothache

A pain-relieving medicine can help manage your pain while you're waiting for an appointment. Not all pain-relieving medicines are suitable for everyone, so check the label carefully. If you have any questions, your pharmacist can advise.

You can also consider a pain-relieving gel, applied directly to the painful area. Your pharmacist can advise which one may be suitable, and whether it's OK to use the gel alongside a pain-relieving medicine. Gently rinsing the mouth with salty water can also help, but this treatment isn't suitable for children. 

If possible, avoid foods and drinks that are very sweet, hot or cold as these may further irritate the painful area. Choose soft foods such as scrambled eggs, soup or yoghurt.

If you smoke, it's best to avoid doing so as smoking can make some dental problems worse. 

Avoiding toothache

The best way to help keep your teeth healthy and pain-free is to have a good dental hygiene routine. Adults and children should brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, for a minimum of two minutes each time. You should also clean the areas between your teeth every day. You can use floss or a small interdental brush. This helps to remove any food that gets stuck there, as well as helping to stop plaque building up. Your dentist or pharmacist can advise you on the most suitable product for you.

You should also see your dentist for regular check-ups. Your dentist can often see and treat potential problems before they become painful. 

Next steps

• See your dentist for a check-up if you have a mild toothache, or one that comes and goes

• Visit your dentist urgently if your toothache lasts longer than two days, doesn't respond to pain-relieving medicines, or is accompanied by swelling in your gum or a bad taste in your mouth

• Go to A&E immediately if your toothache is accompanied by swelling in your neck or around your eyes, or if swelling in your mouth is making it hard to eat, swallow or breathe