If you’ve had a toothache, you know they are miserable and often, very little helps make your toothache go away. Why is that?
Tooth pain has many different causes. One cause is decay penetrating deep into a tooth and exposing the dental pulp (which contains your tooth’s nerve). Another is when your tooth abscesses. An abscess is when your tooth’s nerve dies and produces pus and gasses as it decomposes. The pus and other products of infection need to get out of your tooth somehow—often they will use the end of the root as their escape route.
Pain medications can decrease feeling of pain but they do not fix what is causing your pain. It would be a bit like asking pain medications to fix your broken arm. If you break your arm, the pain medication may make you feel a bit better, but it doesn’t fuse the broken bones—you still need to see a doctor to fix the break. (In the case of teeth, you need a dentist to evaluate and fix the underlying problem.) Recent studies show that alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen is more effective than prescription pain medications.
Antibiotics are not the answer either. They can help your body reduce the number of bacteria, but they do not fix the problem that is causing your pain. Antibiotics are a bit like putting a band-aid on your broken arm. It does something, but it doesn’t fix the break—you still need a doctor to do that. (Again, in the case of a tooth, the doctor is your dentist.) An antibiotic may be used to help control your symptoms until you can have dental treatment, but it will not “fix” your problem, and you should plan to have dental treatment as soon as possible! (Infection can still be present even if you are not having any pain, and if the infection decides to spread, you may need to be hospitalized to get it under control. And yes, people have died from untreated dental infections.)
Since the worst toothaches stem from problems with your tooth’s nerve, and the tooth nerve has no blood supply of its own, it is very hard for any medication to get to the nerve to relieve your pain. Even your dentist’s “Novocaine” sometimes has a hard time getting through the pus to numb your tooth.
If you do have a toothache, call your dentist right away. You can take over-the-counter pain relievers until your appointment. Ones that have an anti-inflammatory action (ibuprofen, Naprosyn, etc.) may provide slightly better pain relief than Acetaminophen which does not have the anti-inflammatory effect. As stated above, recent studies have indicated that taking ibuprofen and acetaminophen on an alternating , overlapping basis seems to be more helpful than prescription pain medications. (For example, take a dose of ibuprofen and 3 hours later take a dose of acetaminophen, then three hours later (a total of 6 hours after the first dose) take another dose of ibuprofen—keep taking alternating medications every three hours.) Topical anesthetics (Ora-Gel etc.) may also be helpful. For gum-related pain, rinsing with warm salt water is often soothing.
You can learn more about tooth pain at these links: Tooth Pain
Note: This advice is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professional.
Dr. Jennifer Robb is accepting new patients. Please call 440-960-1940 to reserve your time to visit her office located at 1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH. Find more information about Dr. Robb at www.drjrobb.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DrJenniferRobb