Any injury to the gums or teeth can be very painful. At other times, you may have dental pain and not know why. For example, sudden pain may be caused by pieces of food that come in contact with a decayed area of the tooth. Food, heat or cold may create pressure near the nerve and cause pain. The nerve inside the tooth also may be exposed if you lose a filling or crown.
Pain that gets worse over time can also be caused by food that's stuck between your tooth and gum. If you don't brush and floss well, the bits of food remain. Bacteria multiply in this area, and an infection of the tooth and gum may develop. This type of infection is called an abscess. It can be at the root end of the tooth (in bone) or in the gums. An abscess can be a serious health problem if it is not treated.
Pain when you bite or chew can be a sign of an abscess, especially if you also notice a bad smell or a bad taste in your mouth.
What You Can Do
First, call your dentist and make an appointment.
In the meantime, here are a few steps you can take at home to try to relieve the pain:
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Even if this helps, you still need to see your dentist. If you medicate the pain and don't get treatment, the infection can spread. It could even become life threatening.
Rinse your mouth with warm salt water every hour or so. Mix one-half teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces (1 cup) of water. This won't heal an infected tooth, but it may ease the gum swelling.
If the pain is caused by food stuck in a cavity, brushing and using dental floss in the area may remove it.
If you've lost a filling or crown, dip a cotton swab in clove oil and apply it to the exposed part of the tooth. You can buy clove oil in drugstores and supermarkets. You also can use a topical anesthetic, such as Anbesol.
If you will be traveling in an airplane, the changes in pressure may make the pain worse. Try to get dental treatment before traveling by air.
What Your Dentist Will Do
Even when dental problems cause a lot of pain, the problems, and the treatments, often are relatively simple if you seek help right away.
The first thing your dentist will do is take an X-ray. If you have a cavity, your dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth and place a filling. Once the inner part of the tooth is protected, the pain will usually disappear right away.
If your problem is related to pieces of food stuck under your gums, your dentist will remove the pieces. If you have an infection, you may be given a prescription for antibiotics and pain medicine. Take your antibiotics exactly as directed, even if you start to feel much better after only a day or two.
An abscess in the tooth will require root canal treatment. An abscess in the gum may need to be drained. If the tooth is very damaged, it may have to be removed.
4/30/12© 2002- Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.