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What You Can Do If You Have A Toothache

Even though Ohio dental offices are not seeing patients for routine care, most consider a toothache a dental emergency. If you are experiencing a toothache, you should call your dentist. A dentist has more knowledge about teeth and is better equipped to deal with the problem than a medical facility. In fact, right now, most medical facilities are turning away those who come in with toothache complaints and instructing them to call a dental office. 

This is a good reason to have a dentist who knows you and your mouth's condition. While usually we would instruct you to come for an appointment, now we will probably ask more questions over the phone and possibly even have you send photos via email (or a video chat feature if the office has that available). And, yes, sometimes you will come to the office for evaluation and treatment to get you comfortable. If we know that a dental specialist (such as a root canal specialist or an oral surgeon) is needed, we may refer you directly to that office. If prescriptions are needed, they can often be phoned in to your pharmacy. 

If you do not have a dentist, you'll need to start calling offices. If money is an issue, there are safety net dental clinics and clinics that offer sliding fee scales. Try contacting your county's dental society to find one near you if needed. 

But what can you do in the meantime, while you're miserable and waiting for a dentist to call you back? Unfortunately, not much self-care seems to help if it's a true toothache caused by exposure of the tooth's dental pulp to bacteria. The best over-the-counter pain regimen seems to be to take 400-800mg of ibuprofen and 300-500mg of acetaminophen Some sources say to take these together and others say to stagger them--taking the ibuprofen first and then taking the acetaminophen about 3 hours later (about halfway between the every 6 hour dosing period)--make sure to watch the maximum daily level you take however. Too much ibuprofen can cause liver damage and GI bleeding. Too much acetaminophen can cause hearing damage. 

You can also try the over-the-counter topical medications such as benzogel or oragel. Sometimes they will provide temporary relief. Others report that they make the pain worse. The pharmacist at your drug store may be able to provide other over-the-counter options.

You can also try experimenting with cold temperatures. In some cases, a cold beverage will relieve the symptoms. Hot usually increases the intensity of a toothache--but if heat makes yours feel better, it's fine to use it.

If you suspect sinus pain might be contributing to your symptoms, you can try taking an over-the-counter decongestant to see if that helps your symptoms.

While we hope that you don't experience a toothache, we know that the longer dental offices are not allowed to provide routine care such as filings, the more likely it is that people will experience a dental emergency. After all, dental decay doesn't care that Ohio told dental offices to stop doing fillings for now. It's going to keep growing larger and getting closer to the dental pulp.

If you know you have a cavity, decay, or needed a filling and were not able to have it done before the shut down or aren't able to get it done now, you can do the following to try to keep the growth rate of the decay as low as possible:

  • Brush at least twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride. You should brush for at least two minutes each time you brush.
  • Floss your teeth once a day (whether with floss, floss picks, or preloaded flossers). An oral irrigator (like a WaterPik) isn't a true substitute for flossing but it's better than not doing anything at all). Flossing cleans the areas where your toothbrush can't reach.
  • Rinse with an anti-cavity mouthwash (many contain fluoride, some may have a different ingredient)--make sure the bottle says anti-cavity or fluoride on the label. Some mouthwashes are just flavored water and won't have the same effect. You can also brush on a fluoride gel if you can't find a mouthrinse--but the mouthrinse is more likely to penetrate between your teeth than a brushed on product is.


Note: The information in this article is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare practitioners. 

Jennifer G Robb, DMD is a general dentist with an office in Lorain, OH. She sees both adults and children.