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Toothache occurs as pain in and around the teeth and jaw, often resulting from tooth decay. You can feel toothache in different ways, either as a constant or recurring pain. Sometimes, drinking or eating can worsen the pain, especially if the food or drink is cold or hot.

The pain may also be mild or severe, start suddenly or feel sharp. It can worsen at night, particularly when you lie down. A broken tooth or lost feeling may sometimes cause pain.

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It may be difficult to know if the pain is in the lower or upper teeth. When the pain is from a lower molar tooth, it often feels like it is from the ear. Toothache in the upper teeth sometimes feels like it is from the sinuses, the small cavities behind the forehead and cheekbones that are filled with air.

The part of your jaw close to the infected tooth may become sore and tender to the touch. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that affects the hard and soft structures supporting the teeth and can cause dull pain.

When should I visit a dentist?

If your toothache lasts for more than 1 – 2 days, visit your dentist as soon as possible for treatment. The longer the pain lingers, the worse it will become. If left untreated, the pulp inside your tooth will become infected, leading to a dental abscess. Dental abscesses may cause severe and persistent throbbing pain.

Painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol may ease the discomfort and pain while you wait for a dental appointment. Avoid giving children below 16 years aspirin.

What can cause toothache?

Toothache can occur when the central part of the tooth, called the dental pulp, becomes inflamed. The pulp contains blood vessels and sensitive nerves.

The dental pulp may get inflamed from:

  • Tooth decay – this leaves holes on the hard surface of the tooth
  • Cracked tooth – the crack is usually small and isn’t noticeable
  • Broken or loose fillings
  • Receding gums – the gums shrink, exposing the softer, more sensitive part of the tooth
  • Periapical abscess – puss at the end of the tooth from a bacterial infection

Several other conditions can cause pain that feels like toothache, even when the pulp isn’t infected. They include:

  • Periodontal abscess –puss in the gums from bacterial infection
  • Ulcers on your gums
  • Swollen or sore gums around a tooth that is coming in – for example, when a wisdom tooth starts coming in
  • Sinusitis – this condition may cause pain in the upper jaw
  • Injury to the joint attacking the jaw to the skull (temporomandibular joint)

Babies may experience discomfort when they start developing teeth. This is called teething.

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Treating toothache

The treatment for toothache will depend on the cause of the pain, so your dentist needs to examine your mouth and carry out an X-ray to identify the problem.

If tooth decay causes toothache, the dentist will remove the decayed area and apply a filling. If the toothache results from a broken or loose filling, the dentist will remove the filling, remove any decay and put in a new filling.

If the pulp inside your tooth becomes infected, a root canal treatment may be necessary. This dental procedure involves removing the infected pulp and inserting a filling to seal the tooth and prevent another infection.

Removing the tooth may be necessary if treating the toothache isn’t possible with the above methods or if the tooth is between another tooth and the jaw (impacted tooth).

Preventing toothache

The recommended way to prevent toothache and other dental issues is to keep your teeth and gums healthy. This will include the following:

  • Limiting your sugary drinks and food intake – you can have them as occasional treats and only during meals.
  • Brush your teeth at least twice daily with fluoride-containing toothpaste. Ensure you brush your tongue and gums gently
  • Clean between your teeth with dental floss and mouthwash
  • Avoid smoking – smoking can worsen dental problems

Ensure you undergo regular check-ups, preferably with your dentist. The frequency of your check-ups will depend on how healthy your gums and teeth are and your risk of developing other dental problems.

Your dentist will inform you when you will have your next dental check-up based on your oral health. Children need a dental check-up every six months to identify and treat any decay early.

At McKennell Dental Practice, our dentists will examine your teeth thoroughly to determine why you experience toothache and provide the necessary treatment.

If you need toothache treatment in London, visit our clinic at 21 Churton Street London SW1V 2LY or call 020 7834 8802 to schedule an appointment with our dentist.

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