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Toothache: What to Do When the Pain is Too Much

An Expert Opinion

A severe toothache can, as many know, be a real nightmare. The pain can be horrible and, at its worst, it can be unbearable. And when pain is unbearable, people do silly things. If you Google toothache you'll quickly find page after page of advice on how to cope with it. Some of it's good, but an alarming majority of it isn't and can even make things worse.

Why Does a Toothache Hurt So Bad?

In many ways, a toothache is a unique form of pain unlike any other you might experience in your body. For starters, this is literally a pain in your head, so it's almost impossible to find a comfortable position that might help alleviate the pain in the way you might for, for example, a sprained ankle.

Secondly, a tooth does not respond to trauma in the way other parts of your body do. If you hit your arm hard it bruises, because the injury is being mitigated by a rush of blood to the damaged area that is the beginning of the healing process. But because a tooth is a solid, closed container - even though it's full of soft tissues and a surprisingly large number of nerves - the blood supply is not as plentiful and the healing process is not as effective.

Finally, often a toothache has an underlying, hidden to the untrained eye cause. If you have a broken or cracked tooth then the reason for the agony you're in is a little more obvious, as that sensitive soft pulp is usually exposed to the world and it's easy to understand why it hurts. However, if a tooth is infected or decayed, or perhaps there's an underlying gum problem, it's harder to see and harder to understand. In fact, all you know is that you're in pain and you want that pain to stop as soon as possible.

The Wrong Ways to Deal with Tooth Pain

As we mentioned, some people get pretty desperate when they are stuck with a toothache that just won't quit. Two aspirins didn't work, so they take four. Four don't work either so they take four more. That, however, is a terrible idea. The correct dosage of an anti-inflammatory OTC pain reliever might provide some relief - hopefully it does - but if it doesn't, taking so many more that you start to rattle a bit is not going to help.

It also won't help to try to booze away the pain. Well, it might for a little while, if you drink enough, but within a couple of hours you'll have a banging hangover AND a terrible toothache to contend with and, if you were also popping Advil, you could seriously have damaged your health.

Then there are those weird home remedies that Google's thrown up for you. A few temporary pain killing home remedies do work (more about that in a moment) but most are nonsense. Some suggest gobbling garlic over a visit to a dentist asap, but unless you are also dealing with a vampire infestation or something, that really won't help. And don't even think about trying something daft like pulling your own tooth, whatever Grandpa might say.

The Right Ways to Deal with Tooth Pain

A toothache almost never goes away on its own. And even if it does dissipate for a little while, it's usually back pretty quickly. For tooth pain you really do need to see a dentist and you need to see one asap. If, while you are waiting for your dentist to open, or for an emergency dentist to have you come in, you want to try rinsing with warm salt water or dabbing the painful tooth with clove oil (dabbing, not swallowing, the stuff can really burn) these are things that might provide a little temporary relief. However, in the end, even if you're not a big fan of them, a trip to the dentist is your best chance at finally getting rid of a toothache, and the sooner you get there, the faster you'll feel better.

Toothache is horrible and it's one of the biggest reasons emergency dentists exist in the first place. 'Toughing out' a toothache isn't being brave, it's being silly. So when toothache strikes at the wrong time, give us a ring, it's the only sensible thing to do.

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