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Ouch! My Tooth Hurts. How Soon Should I See a Dentist?

Posted December 16, 2023 in Emergency Dental Care

When is a good time to have a toothache? Never! Dental pain is always an inconvenient intrusion and causes discomfort that ranges from a dull ache to sharp or throbbing pain, signaling potentially serious dental issues.

An attractive bearded man in a dentist chair talks to a female dentist while holding his painful jaw.

This comprehensive blog explores the various causes of toothaches, underscores the importance of prompt dental intervention, and sheds light on the treatments dentists might employ to alleviate pain and address the root of the problem.

Causes of Toothaches

There are several reasons you might be experiencing tooth pain. Some of these include:

  • Tooth decay and cavities: Tooth decay is typically the result of bacteria in the mouth that produce acids and erode tooth enamel. Cavities develop as a result of this decay and eventually expose nerves deep inside the tooth, causing sensitivity and discomfort.
  • Gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis): Gingivitis, the initial stage of gum disease, involves inflammation of the gums that can progress to periodontitis. Receding gums in advanced stages cannot shield tooth roots from contact with food particles, acid, and debris, which leads to pain.
  • Tooth fractures or cracks: Trauma or biting down on a hard substance often causes teeth to break or crack. These fractures can leave dental nerves unprotected, leading to sharp pain and ongoing sensitivity.
  • Dental abscesses: An abscess is a pus-filled pocket caused by a bacterial infection and often causes severe, throbbing pain, which may be accompanied by swelling.
  • Impacted wisdom teeth: Wisdom teeth, or third molars, may not have enough room to emerge properly. Impacted wisdom teeth can cause pain, pressure, and discomfort in the jaw.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding): Persistent teeth grinding or bruxism is a well-known cause of worn-down teeth, TMJ disorder, and muscle strain, which tend to result in jaw and facial pain as well as headaches.

The Urgency of Contacting a Dentist

Early intervention is crucial to prevent minor dental issues that can be addressed with simple solutions from becoming serious problems and causing further complications that require complex dental procedures.

Prompt dental care can often save a tooth that might otherwise be at risk of extraction, leaving a gap in your smile.

  • Avoiding the spread of infection: When abscesses or severe gum disease are to blame for your pain, immediate dental care prevents the infection from spreading to other parts of your body. Untreated infections can lead to serious systemic health issues.
  • Minimizing pain and discomfort: Seeking immediate dental attention helps relieve the pain associated with a toothache. A dentist can provide effective pain relief and address the underlying cause of your discomfort.

Treatments for Toothaches

Regardless of the reason for your dental pain, seeking urgent care can ensure the health and appearance of your smile.

  • Fillings for cavities: Dentists remove the decayed area of the tooth and fill the cavity with dental materials. Fillings seal the tooth, preventing further decay and reducing sensitivity. White fillings are made of a composite resin designed to match the color of your tooth.
  • Root canal therapy (RTC): In cases of severe decay or infection, the dentist will remove the infected pulp and debris from the tooth. The tooth is then covered with a dental crown to protect it from sensitivity and further damage.
  • Gum disease treatment: Dentists remove plaque and tartar from below the gum line and smooth the root surfaces in a process called scaling and root planing. In severe cases, antibiotics may be prescribed to control bacterial infection.
  • Care for a dental abscess: Your Dentist may need to drain an abscess to alleviate pain, and antibiotics are usually prescribed to eliminate the infection.
  • Tooth extraction: When a wisdom tooth is impacted, or severe decay has damaged the tooth to the degree that root canal therapy can’t help, extraction may be necessary. Extracting a problematic tooth can prevent further complications and discomfort.
  • Orthodontic intervention: Addressing issues like misaligned teeth or bite problems that are causing discomfort usually involves orthodontic treatments. This solution can also help minimize the impact of bruxism.

Home Remedies for Temporary Relief

If you must wait overnight for an emergency dental appointment, the following solutions are available to help you:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications: non-prescription pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide temporary relief. Numbing products like Orajel™ can also be helpful. Be sure to follow recommended dosages and guidelines to avoid complications.
  • Cold compress: Applying a cold compress to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and numb the area. Limit the use of ice, and do not fall asleep with a cold compress on the area to avoid the risk of damaging oral tissues.
  • Clove Oil: The efficacy of clove oil in dental care has been recognized across cultures. It is an ingredient in some dental products and home remedies for oral health.

NOTE OF CAUTION: While these options can offer temporary relief for mild dental pain, they are not a substitute for professional dental care. Persistent or severe pain should be addressed by a healthcare professional quickly to identify and treat the underlying cause.

Emergency Dental Care in Las Cruces, NM

The dental professionals at Gentle Care Dentistry have been treating dental emergencies in Las Cruces, New Mexico, for over 30 years. Their combination of skill and compassion has made them the go-to dentists in Las Cruces and the surrounding areas. If you have a toothache, call our office at 575-524-3722 immediately and let us take care of you.