patient with toothache talking to dentist

Toothache Medicine: What Are Your Options?

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Think about your toothache like it's an important phone call or text message. The pain is a signal from your mouth that says, "Hey! It's time to make an appointment with your dental professional!" The problem is that once the message is received and your visit is in the books, there's no off button. But there are ways you can silence the messages you're receiving temporarily. If you're experiencing a toothache and want to relieve pain until you can get in for treatment, we'll let you know what over-the-counter and at-home remedies are available to you so you can continue smiling.

What Are Common Causes of Toothaches?

  • Cavities
    Bacteria in your mouth feed on food and sugar, which produces tooth enamel-attacking acid. Over time, these acid attacks on your teeth will lead to tooth decay. And, you guessed it, that tooth decay can cause painful toothaches.
  • Infection
    If you're experiencing extended throbbing, you may have an infection or an abscess (buildup of pus caused by a bacterial infection) in your tooth or gums.
  • Gum Disease
    According to the Journal of Dental Research, nearly half of adults over 30 in the US ( 47.1 percent to be exact) have some form of gum disease. Left untreated, the early stages of gum disease (gingivitis) can develop into periodontitis. Both forms can cause toothaches, while the latter can cause your teeth to loosen or even fall out.
  • Fracture
    Pressure from teeth grinding, chewing or biting hard foods, and a hard impact from injury are all causes for tooth fractures that can result in toothaches.
  • Loose or Broken Filling
    If you're feeling sensitivity in an area where you previously had a filling, the filling may be loose or broken.

According to MedlinePlus, things unrelated to oral care and hygiene, like earaches, sinus pressure, and heart attacks, can cause toothaches, too. However, by practicing good oral hygiene and visiting your dental professional for regular checkups, most toothache causes can be avoided.

Over-the-Counter Toothache Relief

Depending on your symptoms, over-the-counter toothache medicine can help ease your pain while you're awaiting professional care.

  • Benzocaine
    When you spread this topical anesthetic over your teeth and gums, it can numb and decrease toothache pain. Important note: according to the American Dental Association, benzocaine should not be used for any children under 2.
  • Acetaminophen
    The pain-relieving properties of acetaminophen are a good first line of pain defense until you can see your dental professional for diagnosis and treatment. However, acetaminophen doesn't treat inflammation. If you're experiencing redness, swelling, and a heat sensation, you may want to use a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) instead.
  • NSAIDs
    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can help cut the sharp pain accompanying a cavity just like acetaminophen. However, they can also help reduce inflammation caused by gum disease, abscessed teeth, and sinusitis. Keep in mind that NSAIDs shouldn't be used for more than 10 days without talking to your doctor.

Home Remedies for Treating Oral Pain

There are also remedies you can try at home to relieve pain and minimize symptoms until you can get to your dental professional's office.

  • Salt Water Rinse
    Saltwater is known for its natural healing properties and can be used to ease pain, reduce inflammation, and help fight bacteria in your mouth. Add a couple of teaspoons of salt to a cup of warm water. Once you've swished the mixture around your mouth, spit it out.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide Rinse
    Like saltwater, a hydrogen peroxide rinse can relieve pain and swelling in your mouth. It can also help kill bacteria, reduce plaque, and heal bleeding gums. To prepare the solution, use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, and mix it with an equal amount of water. Swish it around in your mouth, but don't swallow it. If you're not a fan of DIY (do-it-yourself), there are hydrogen peroxide mouthrinses available over-the-counter, too.

The above recommendations should help provide you with temporary relief until you can visit your dental professional. At your appointment, they will be able to diagnose what's causing your pain so they can provide you with treatment that keeps you smiling.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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