When They Can't Tell You What's Wrong: Information for Caregivers and Parents

Sometimes we’re faced with caring for someone who can’t tell us how they feel or if there is a problem.  Sometimes a problem is obvious: a broken tooth or a swollen face or jaw, but other times the problem may not be so obvious. Here are some signs and symptoms to watch for that might indicate a dental problem:


  • Pain when eating or when pressing on a tooth
  • Refusing to eat or drink
  • Wincing in pain while chewing
  • Avoiding foods that are hot or cold
  • Biting inner cheek or lip
  • Drooling
  • Acting differently during meals (angry, aggressive) or trying to bite you or other objects
  • Mouth that seems dry and tongue covered with a white film
  • Bad breath, even with good mouth care
  • Swelling, redness, and/or a pimple on the gum underneath a tooth
  • A tooth that becomes darker than the rest
  • Refusal to let you help with mouth care


If you notice fever along with swelling in the face or jaw or significant swelling, call the person’s dentist (or your dentist if the person doesn’t have one) right away. For all other symptoms, try to get the person to a dentist (their own or yours) within 3 days to find out what’s wrong.


If you’re the primary caregiver, you may be able to give the dentist some tips on how to best deal with the patient. For example, you may know that explaining what you’re planning to do prior to doing it works well with this particular patient.


If you don’t have a dentist, my office is taking new patients. Call 440-960-1940 for an appointment.


This advice is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your health care professionals.


Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist with an office located at 1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. www.drjrobb.com            www.facebook.com/DrJenniferRobb