A toothache can occur for many reasons — from a popcorn hull stuck in your gums to a broken tooth to a bacterial infection. Temporary gum irritation can cause some toothaches. But serious toothaches need professional treatment.


What is a toothache?

A toothache refers to pain in or around your tooth. Minor toothaches can occur from a temporary gum irritation that you can treat at home. More severe toothaches result from cavities, infection or other dental conditions that won’t get better on their own. If you have a severe toothache, you’ll need professional dental treatment.

Unbearable tooth pain along with fever and chills means you’re having a dental emergency. Call a dentist or go to your nearest emergency room right away. Though it’s rare, infection in your mouth can spread to other areas of your body, including your brain and bloodstream.

Types of toothaches

There are different types of tooth pain depending on the underlying cause. Specific toothache symptoms can vary but may include:


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Symptoms and Causes

What causes a toothache?

There are many reasons why people develop tooth pain. Possible toothache causes include:

How long does a toothache last?

There’s no way to know how long your toothache will last. It depends on the underlying cause. For instance, if you have temporary gum irritation, it should go away on its own in a day or two. But if you have a cavity or abscess, the pain may come and go somewhat, but it won’t go away completely.


Management and Treatment

How do dentists treat toothaches?

A dentist will perform an examination and ask about your symptoms. They may also take a dental X-ray to see if there are any issues going on beneath your gums.

There are several toothache treatments available. The one that’s right for you depends on the severity of your situation.

Toothache medicine

Antibiotics and pain relievers can ease toothache symptoms, but their effects are temporary. Even if an infection goes away after you take antibiotics, it will come back unless you treat the underlying issue.

However, while you’re waiting to see your dentist, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers (like acetaminophen and ibuprofen) to reduce pain and tenderness.

Dental fillings

If you have a small cavity — or if a small piece of your tooth has broken off — your dentist will probably recommend a dental filling. During this procedure, they’ll remove any damaged portions of your tooth, and then fill in the void with a strong dental filling material.

Dental crowns

A larger cavity or fracture may require a dental crown. This tooth-shaped “cap” fits over your entire tooth, strengthening it and reducing the risk of further damage.

Inlays or onlays

Sometimes, a cavity or crack is too big for a filling but not large enough to warrant a crown. In these instances, your dentist may recommend an inlay or onlay. This type of custom ceramic restoration fits into your tooth like a tiny puzzle piece.

Root canal therapy

If bacteria from a cavity or crack invade your tooth pulp, you’ll need a root canal. This procedure removes inflamed nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues from inside your tooth. Next, your dentist will clean the inside tooth surfaces, then fill your pulp chamber and root canals with a filling material. In most cases, you’ll also need a crown to protect and strengthen your tooth.

Tooth extraction

Most dentists prefer to save natural teeth when they can. But sometimes, it’s not possible. If your tooth is badly damaged, you may need a tooth extraction. During this procedure, your dentist will carefully remove your tooth from its socket and clean out any infection.

If you need a tooth pulled, talk to your dentist about replacement options. Once you’ve healed from your extraction, they can replace it with a dental bridge or dental implant. They can also make you a temporary tooth to wear until you get your permanent replacement.

Are there home remedies for toothaches?

Home remedies can offer some mild toothache relief. But if you have tooth pain that doesn’t go away, you’ll need to see a dentist for treatment.

If you have mild pain, there are a few toothache remedies you can try at home:

Saltwater rinse

Salt is a natural disinfectant. Rinsing with warm saltwater rinse can reduce inflammation, heal wounds in your mouth and offer toothache pain relief. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of warm water. Swish for 30 seconds, and then spit it out.

Hydrogen peroxide rinse

Rinsing with hydrogen peroxide can also ease tooth pain and inflammation. It helps heal bleeding gums, too. If you have a history of gum disease, this might be a good step to try.

You should never rinse your mouth with pure hydrogen peroxide. Be sure to dilute it with equal parts water. After swishing, spit it out in the sink. Don’t swallow.

Ice packs

Applying ice to the affected area helps shrink blood vessels and reduce pain and inflammation. You can wrap a bag of ice or frozen veggies in a clean towel, and then hold it against your outside jaw for about 20 minutes. Repeat several times a day.


Can I prevent toothaches?

You can’t always prevent toothaches. Sometimes, they occur for reasons out of your control.

But there are things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • Brush your teeth two to three times a day using a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Floss between your teeth once a day.
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash twice a day.
  • Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings.
  • Ask your dentist about sealants and fluoride treatments.

Living With

When should I see a dentist?

Call a dentist right away if you develop:

  • A toothache that lasts longer than two days.
  • Swelling in your face or jaw.
  • Pain when opening your mouth wide.

When should you go to the ER for a toothache?

You should head to your local emergency room if you have:

  • Swelling below your eye or a knot on your jaw.
  • Unbearable tooth pain that doesn’t get better with medication.
  • Bleeding that won’t stop with applied pressure.
  • A fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.33 degrees Celsius).

Additional Common Questions

Can a toothache go away on its own?

Tooth pain can go away on its own in certain situations. For example, if you have irritated gums from biting into something hard, your discomfort will likely go away in a day or two. But a true toothache — pain that originates from the tooth itself — usually means you have an issue that needs treatment.

If you have a toothache — whether it comes and goes or lingers — you should see a dentist as soon as possible. Treating the issue early can keep it from getting worse or causing more pain.

How can you tell what kind of toothache you have?

The short answer is that you can’t know for sure until you see a dentist. But generally:

  • A dull, persistent toothache could mean you have an infected tooth. It could also be a sign that you grind your teeth when you sleep.
  • A sharp, stabbing pain might mean that you have a cavity or crack in your tooth. Sometimes, it means there’s an issue with an existing filling or crown.
  • Severe, throbbing pain could mean that infection has invaded your tooth pulp.
  • Sensitivity to heat and cold could indicate a number of things, including cavities, cracks or gum disease. If the pain goes away quickly, it could mean that you have worn enamel.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A toothache can be so mild that it’s a small inconvenience or so severe that it disrupts your daily life. Tooth pain is a symptom that’s telling you something isn’t quite right. If you have a toothache that lingers for longer than a day or two, call a dentist. They can find the cause of the issue and recommend treatment for tooth pain relief.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/11/2023.

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