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Toothaches

Definition

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. The tendency to get tooth decay is also partly inherited.

Sometimes, pain that's 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

Home Care

You can use over-the-counter pain medications while waiting to see the dentist or primary health care provider.

The dentist may recommend antibiotic therapy 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 upon opening the 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 health care provider.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

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

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

  • When did the pain start?
  • Where how bad is the pain and where is it located?
  • 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, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2013:chap 64.


Review Date: 2/25/2014
Reviewed By: Ilona Fotek, DMD, MS, Palm Beach Prosthodontics Dental Associates, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, 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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