"Owww! My tooth hurts!" Parents, if you haven't already heard this expression, you will! Most of the time, it is from a minor cause and can be treated at home with easy solutions that will make your child feel better. A child always wants someone to "fix it," so let's talk about how to do it and when you need to make a dental appointment!
What is a Toothache?
Quite simply, a toothache is a pain in or around a tooth. Anyone can experience this, and it can be for many different reasons. Many minor toothaches can be treated at home and may be from a gum irritation. Your child can have tooth pain when a seed or other food particle gets between their teeth. They can also have toothaches when they gain and lose their primary teeth and when their permanent teeth erupt (1, 2, 3).
The pain comes from some of the most sensitive nerves in your body. The pulp inside your teeth is a soft substance full of nerves, tissues, and blood vessels. When the tooth's nerves become irritated, pain can be severe (1, 2, 3).
Causes of Pain
The teeth shift and move toward the permanent setting as a child's mouth matures. Whether they have no need for retainers or braces to keep the teeth aligned, there can still be pain as teeth find their place. Here are some possible causes (1, 2, 3):
Eruption – teeth come out of gums. This happens in infancy as they "cut their teeth" and again when permanent teeth are making their debut. When wisdom teeth decide to develop and emerge, they may not have room and become impacted.
Tooth decay – from lack of good oral hygiene or genetics.
Infection – in the gums, or with an abscessed tooth which is caused by bacteria infecting the pulp of the tooth.
Repetitive motions – things like grinding, clenching the teeth, or chewing gum can cause the teeth to ache and wear down.
Traumatic injury – a broken tooth, a tooth fracture, or a damaged filling. Injury to the upper or lower jaw can also cause tooth pain.
Split in the teeth – this can be acquired over time.
Some pain can also be referred to from other sources or come from different body parts. An earache can sometimes cause dental pain, and sinus infections can have the same effect (3).
Symptoms of Pain
Your child may feel pain in a variety of ways. It can be constant or intermittent, sharp or throbbing. Sometimes they have pain only when pressure is applied, such as biting down. If there is an infection, their breath may have a foul odor, they can have swelling of the gums around the tooth affected, and they can have bad-tasting drainage. One of the first signs may be a fever or headache as the body tries to combat this on its own (1, 2, 3).
If your child is experiencing any trouble with their breathing or swallowing, contact a physician right away, or call 911 to get immediate help.
Management and Treatment at Home
Usually, a toothache from irritation to the gums will resolve within a few days. Instruct your child to take time when chewing and try to avoid the affected area of the mouth. Soft foods may be easier to eat, such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or eggs. Avoid sweets or foods that are very hot or cold, as the teeth can sometimes be sensitive to these things (1).
Here are some temporary ways of helping your child get relief (1):
Warm salt water solutions can loosen particles of debris stuck between the teeth. It can also reduce inflammation and act as a disinfectant. A ½ teaspoon of salt stirred in a glass of warm water is the recipe. Please encourage them to swish this around in their mouths and spit it out in the sink.
A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution helps to reduce inflammation and pain. Mix this with an equal amount of water and have your child swish and spit. Do not use it if your child cannot spit this solution out. It is not harmful when used in this manner, but you do not want them to swallow it.
Cold compress - a towel with ice or a commercial ice pack wrapped in it can be applied as a compress to the area that hurts for 20-minute periods. You may repeat this every few hours.
Pain medications – Over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) can be used as directed by your physician or dentist. They are a group known as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and can reduce swelling and pain. Use acetaminophen if your child can't take NSAIDs. Please don't give your child aspirin if they are under 16. It is contraindicated; use acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead (1).
Again, always consult your pediatrician or dentist before giving anything to swish and spit or any medication, whether over the counter, natural, or herbal. Do not use any topical benzocaine medications on your child, such as Anbesol, Orabase, Orajel, or others, unless specifically instructed to do so by your physician or dentist (2).
When is it Time to Go to the Dentist?
Ok, you have tried some of the remedies discussed for your little one when they complain of pain. You've done everything you can at home and need expert advice and treatment. If the pain keeps reoccurring, your child is complaining that their pain is worse, or their symptoms have become more severe then please call us at Jungle Roots to set up an appointment to assess your child. Our team will get to the "root" of the problem and discuss treatment options with you.
Keep in mind that we may need to go over your child's medical history with you, and you may be asked several questions to try and pinpoint the issue that is causing the toothache. Try to go over these with your child ahead of time, so you have the answers when asked, including (3):
When did the toothache start?
Have they had an injury to the face or teeth?
Where is the pain located?
How bad is it? Describe it, please.
Are there things that make it feel better? Worse?
Are they having any other signs or symptoms, such as fever or headache?
What home remedies have you tried?
The treatments recommended will depend on the source of your child's pain. Our dental team will do a thorough exam checking the mouth, teeth, gums, tongue, throat, nose, sinuses, ears, and neck to diagnose the issue. X-rays may be necessary to see the problem (1).
If there is an infection, fever, or swelling of the jaw, your child may need to take antibiotics for some time to clear it up. Always take the complete prescription as ordered; do not quit taking when the symptoms subside. If a small particle of food under the gum or between the teeth is the culprit, a deep cleaning may need to be performed. Sometimes bacteria may have worked its way into the space inside of the root. If the nerve is infected, a root canal may be needed for permanent teeth. A tooth may need to be extracted to make room for others, or a filling may need to be placed to restore a decaying tooth. We may recommend a particular appliance or braces to alleviate the pain symptoms if they are due to something structural (1).
We concentrate on providing an anxious-free, calming experience for any treatment needed. We work hard to show you and your child that we can be trusted, and they will be taken care of like our own at Jungle Roots. Keeping all your dental and orthodontic needs in the same place can be beneficial to your child in that they can transition from one form of care to another seamlessly. When procedures are needed, we will discuss the options and answer any questions you may have.
Since the most common toothache complaints are due to tooth decay, the crucial element to preventing them is good oral hygiene practices.
Brush twice a day with toothpaste.
Floss at least once a day. If something gets stuck between the teeth, use floss to remove it before it causes a problem.
See the dentist at least twice yearly for a professional assessment and cleaning.
Prepare and offer food low in added sugar so that it doesn't build upon their tooth's surface.
Ask if sealants or fluoride applications are necessary.
Often, a toothache is not a big deal. Sometimes it is. Many issues related to a child's toothaches can be remedied at home as most are connected to their teeth development and the pain associated with it. These toothaches are temporary and can be helped with over-the-counter medications or natural products. But some may be a bit more serious and need a professional. If you have tried everything in your arsenal to relieve their toothache pain and nothing is working, our team is here for support and we want your child to be comfortable coming in to see us for any issues they may have with their teeth. Nearly all treatments needed to alleviate the problems with your child's toothache pain can be done here in our offices. Contact us today if you need a consultation or appointment for anything involving your child's teeth!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.
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Toothache. Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Medical Professionals. Updated March 23, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10957-toothache
Toothache: First aid. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Staff. Published June 8, 2018. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-toothache/basics/art-20056628
Toothaches. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Updated February 6, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003067.htm