Toothaches can be excruciatingly painful and severely impact one’s quality of life. Over-the-counter pain medications can help alleviate the pain until you can see a dentist for treatment. However, with so many pain medications available, it can be challenging to understand which is most effective for toothache.
What are the causes of toothaches?
Toothaches can be caused by something happening to your teeth or gums. They also can be caused by pain in other parts of your body. Common causes of toothaches include:
- Mouth or jaw injury. These can occur from blunt force trauma to the facial area.
- Sinus infection. Drainage from sinus infections may cause tooth pain.
- Tooth decay. When bacteria cause tooth decay, the nerves in your teeth may be exposed, causing pain.
- Losing a filling. If you lose a filling, the nerve inside the tooth may be exposed.
- Abscessed or infected tooth. Sometimes called a dental abscess, this condition is described as a pocket of pus in the tooth.
- Food or other debris wedged in your teeth. Organic and inorganic matter wedged in your teeth can cause pressure between the teeth.
- Teething or wisdom teeth crowning. If you have wisdom teeth coming in, as well as breaking through the gums, they may be pressing against other teeth.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders. TMJ is classified as pain in your jaw joint but can also affect your teeth.
- Gum disease. Gum diseases such as gingivitis or periodontal disease can cause toothaches or pain.
- Grinding. You may grind or clench your teeth at night, which can cause additional pain.
Why do some toothaches hurt more at night?
Toothaches can be painful during the day but may worsen at night.
One reason this may occur is that blood rushes to the head when a person is lying down. This extra blood in the area may increase the pain and pressure people feel from a toothache.
Another reason why many aches feel worse at night is that there are fewer distractions. With little else to focus on but toothache, a person may find it difficult to fall asleep.
How to get pain relief from toothache?
There are essentially two ways to get toothache relief temporarily at home:
Topical Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter pain relief liquids, gels, creams, and swabs can temporarily manage pain. These products usually contain an active ingredient such as benzocaine that temporarily numbs the area until you can see a dentist.
The best over-the-counter pain relief medications for toothaches are acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve). All three painkillers are effective in relieving the discomfort associated with toothaches.
Acetaminophen can effectively relieve mild to moderate pain by blocking pain signals in the brain, but it does not reduce inflammation. Follow the recommended dosages when taking it every 4-6 hours to prevent liver damage.
Ibuprofen is an NSAID that can reduce pain and inflammation by blocking the production of chemicals called prostaglandins. To avoid causing stomach irritation or bleeding, taking ibuprofen every 4-6 hours as recommended and following the recommended dosages is important.
It is also an NSAID that can relieve pain from tooth decay and other dental issues. There are different strengths and dosage forms of naproxen; ask your pharmacist if you are unsure which would be the best choice.
Precautions While Using OTC Pain Medications
It is important to use OTC pain relievers only for short-term relief and seek professional care from a dentist as soon as possible. A dentist can identify the cause of your tooth pain and treat it appropriately, for example, root canals for tooth abscesses.
If you are using these OTC pain-relieving drugs for toothache, keep in mind that taking a larger dose or more frequently than what’s recommended on the package can be dangerous. If you have severe pain and take large doses of NSAIDs or take them for a long time, they can irritate your stomach, increase your risk of heart attack, and cause kidney disease, leading to other complications such as high blood pressure and stroke. Large doses of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage and liver failure. Also, these OTC medications may be unsafe for people with certain medical conditions. Moreover, some OTC medications for tooth pain can interact with other medications, including other OTC products, prescription drugs, and herbal medicines.
Always take the recommended dosage indicated on the package and see your regular or emergency dentist as soon as possible. Please seek emergency medical care if you start developing a fever, chills, weakness, or shortness of breath.
Getting rid of a toothache at night
Treating a toothache at home usually involves pain management. Here are a few ways to dull your pain to get a good night’s sleep.
- Use over-the-counter pain medication. Medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can relieve minor pain from a toothache. Using numbing pastes or gels — often with benzocaine — can help to dull the pain long enough for you to fall asleep. Don’t use any products with benzocaine to treat infants or children under age 2.
- Keep your head elevated. Propping your head higher than your body can keep the blood from rushing to your head. If blood pools in your head, it might intensify the toothache pain and possibly keep you awake.
- Avoid eating acidic, cold, or hard foods right before bed. These foods can aggravate your teeth and any cavities that have already formed. Try to avoid foods that trigger pain.
- Rinse your teeth with mouthwash. Use a mouthwash that contains alcohol to both disinfect and numb your teeth.
- Use an ice pack or cold compress before bed. Wrap an ice pack in a cloth and rest the painful side of your face on it. This can help to dull the pain so you can rest.
Natural remedies for toothaches
There are a number of at-home remedies for temporary relief of toothache or pain, but talk to your dentist before taking them. You should also speak with your dentist before using the following remedies if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any medical conditions that herbal ingredients might impact.
Salt water rinse
A simple salt water rinse is a common home remedy for toothache. Saltwater is a natural antibacterial agent so it may reduce inflammation. This, in turn, helps protect damaged teeth from infection. Rinsing with salt water may also help remove food particles or debris stuck in the teeth or gums.
Hydrogen peroxide rinse
Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that generally occurs due to poor oral hygiene. It can cause issues such as soreness, bleeding gums, and teeth that come loose in their sockets. A study found that rinsing with hydrogen peroxide mouthwash helped reduce plaque and symptoms of periodontitis. People should always dilute food-grade hydrogen peroxide with equal parts water. Swish the solution in the mouth, but do not swallow it. This remedy is not suitable for children, as there is a risk they may accidentally swallow the mixture.
Swishing peppermint tea or sucking on peppermint tea bags may also help temporarily relieve pain from a toothache. Researchers note that peppermint contains antibacterial and antioxidant compounds. Menthol, an active ingredient in peppermint, may also have a mild numbing effect on sensitive areas.
Eugenol, one of the main compounds in cloves, can reduce tooth pain. The results of a 2015 clinical trial indicated that people who applied eugenol to their gums and socket after having a tooth extracted had less pain and inflammation during healing.
Eugenol acts as an analgesic, which means that it numbs the area. To use clove for a toothache, soak ground cloves in water to make a paste. Then, apply the paste to the tooth, put it in an empty tea bag and place it in the mouth.
Alternatively, gently chewing or sucking on a single clove and then allowing it to sit near the painful tooth may help relieve pain. This is not a suitable remedy for children, as they may swallow too much clove. Single cloves can be spiky and painful if a person swallows them.
Garlic is a common household ingredient that some people use to relieve toothache pain. Allicin, the main compound in garlic, has a strong antibacterial effect that may help kill the bacteria in the mouth that lead to cavities and tooth pain. Simply chewing a clove of garlic and allowing it to sit near the tooth may help relieve pain. That said, the taste of raw garlic can be too strong for some people, so this may not be the right solution for everyone.
When should you go to the dentist?
Monitor your dental pain over the next 24 hours. If it subsides, you may just have an irritation. Make an appointment with your dentist if:
- the throbbing pain is severe
- your toothache lasts longer than two days
- you have a fever, headache, or pain when opening your mouth
- you have trouble breathing or swallowing
If you have a toothache lasting longer than a few days, seeing a dentist for treatment is crucial. Pain medications can provide temporary relief but do not address the underlying issue causing the pain. Delaying treatment can lead to more severe dental problems and potentially more significant pain.
In conclusion, the best over-the-counter pain relief medication for toothaches is acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Both medications can effectively relieve toothache pain, but ibuprofen has anti-inflammatory properties. Clove oil can also provide temporary relief from tooth pain. If you have a toothache lasting longer than a few days, seeing a dentist for treatment is crucial.