Posts for tag: toothache
It's 3:00 PM, your child has just come back from the school playground — and she's complaining of a toothache that's making her miserable. She can't seem to say if there was a particular injury or a blow, but the more she talks about it, the worse it gets. You're the parent... what are you going to do now?
If you've ever been through this type of situation, you know that a calm demeanor and a little TLC can go a long way. But how do you know whether you're facing a dental emergency, or a routine booboo? Here are a few general rules that may help.
First, relax: Without a fever and facial swelling, a child's toothache isn't usually an emergency. But any tooth pain that keeps a child up at night or lasts into the next day should be evaluated by a dentist. Even if it's nothing but a small cavity (the most common cause of toothache) you don't want to let it go untreated. That could allow it to turn from a small discomfort into a major problem — like a painful abscess.
There are some things you can do at home to try and get a handle on what's causing the pain. Encourage the child to show you exactly where the pain is located, and to tell you when and how it started. Then, examine the area closely. Look for obvious brown spots, or even tiny cavities (holes) on biting surfaces or between teeth, which might indicate decay. Also check the gums surrounding the tooth, to see if there are sores or swelling.
You may find evidence of a traumatic injury, like a cut or bruise — or, if only swelling is apparent, it may mean an abscess has formed. If nothing looks amiss, try gently flossing on either side of the hurting tooth. This may dislodge a particle of food that's causing pain and pressure.
If the pain persists, you can try giving an appropriate dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or applying an ice pack on the outside of the jaw — one minute on and one minute off. But even if you can make the immediate pain go away, don't neglect the situation that caused it. Unless you're absolutely sure you know why the toothache occurred, you should bring the child in for an examination. It will put your mind at rest — and maybe prevent a bigger problem down the road.
People who fly or scuba dive know firsthand how changes in atmospheric pressure can affect the body: as minor as a popping in the ears, or as life-threatening as decompression sickness. Pressure changes can also cause pain and discomfort in your teeth and sinuses — in fact, severe pain could be a sign of a bigger problem.
Barotrauma (baro – “pressure;” trauma – “injury”), also known as a “squeeze,” occurs when the unequal air pressures outside and inside the body attempt to equalize. Many of the body's organs and structures are filled with air within rigid walls; the force created by equalization presses against these walls and associated nerves, which in turn causes the pain.
The sinus cavities and the middle ear spaces are especially sensitive. Each of these has small openings that help with pressure equalization. However, they can become swollen or blocked with mucous (as when you have a head cold), which slows equalization and contributes to the pain.
It's also possible to experience tooth pain during pressure change. This is because the back teeth in the upper jaw share the same nerve pathways as the upper jaw sinuses — pain originating from the sinuses can be felt in the teeth, and vice-versa. In fact, it's because of this shared pathway that pressure changes can amplify pain from a tooth with a deeper problem, such as a crack, fracture or a defect in dental work.
Besides problems with your teeth, the severe pain could also be related to temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction (TMD), which is pain or discomfort in the small joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull. There are a number of causes for this, but a common one for scuba divers is an ill-fitted regulator mouthpiece that they are biting down on too hard while diving. A custom-fitted mouthpiece could help alleviate the problem.
If you've been experiencing tooth pain during pressure change events, you should see us for an examination before you fly or dive again. There might be more to your pain — and correcting these underlying problems could save you extreme discomfort in the future.
If you would like more information on the effects of atmospheric pressure changes on teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pressure Changes Can Cause Tooth & Sinus Pain.”
You experience a painful toothache that lasts for a few days, but eventually the pain subsides. Since there's no longer any pain, there's no longer anything wrong with the tooth, right?
Maybe not — the toothache may be the result of a decay-induced infection that has developed deep in the pulp of the tooth. The infection inflames both the pulp tissue and the nerves bundled in it (a condition known as pulpitis). Because it occurs in an enclosed space, the pain is even more severe.
Now it's possible for the inflammation to subside and the nerves to heal, which would explain the pain subsiding. But there is another, more likely scenario: the infected pulp tissue can no longer fight the infection and dies. The affected nerves die also, which is why you no longer feel any pain — the dead nerves are no longer transmitting a signal to the brain. The infection, however, is very much alive and continues to advance deeper into the surrounding tissues where it may eventually develop into a painful abscess.
So, how can we determine which of these two scenarios you are actually experiencing? A visit to our office for testing is the surest way to find out. The most common test involves temperature sensation, usually with the application of ice to the affected tooth. If there's no sensation, then that's evidence the nerves in the tooth have died.
If that's the case, it's important then to take steps to stop the infection's advance before it does even more damage. The most likely treatment is a root canal, a procedure that accesses the pulp from the top of the tooth, removes the dead tissue, and then cleans and prepares the root canals for filling. This procedure can usually be performed in our office, but more involved cases may require an endodontist, a specialist in root canals.
In any case, if you experience a severe toothache, please have it examined. And remember — the absence of pain after a toothache doesn't necessarily mean the problem is gone.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of an acute toothache, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Severe Toothache.”
Don't ignore tooth pain hoping it goes away. No matter how mild or fleeting it may be, it's a sign that something's wrong. Healthy teeth shouldn't cause discomfort because the parts containing the nerves — the interior pulp and the dentin around it — are shielded by dental enamel and gums.
Here are some common reasons that teeth ache:
- Gum Recession. Over time, gums can recede. Improper or excessive brushing can affect them, especially if you are genetically predisposed by having thin gums. When gums retreat, dentin can, or eventually will, be exposed. Besides its susceptibility to sensation, dentin is also more vulnerable to erosion and decay than enamel.
- Tooth Erosion/Decay. When acid-producing oral bacteria get the upper hand, they can eat through the tooth's protective enamel to the dentin. You may start feeling sensitivity as the decay gets deeper and closer to the pulp (nerves). Only removal of the decay and filling the cavity can stop the process.
- Old/Loose/Lost Filling. Fillings seal off areas of past decay. If they don't fit right or are dislodged altogether, air or food particles can slip inside and irritate exposed nerve endings. A crevice to hide in makes it prime real estate again for bacteria, too.
- Cracked Tooth. Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can have a similar impact on teeth that a miner's pick has on rock. At first thin lines in your enamel can develop, then cracks develop that may expose the dentin, and finally the tooth might fracture, exposing the pulp. The earlier this process is caught, the better.
- Pulp Tissue Infection/Inflammation. This can be caused by deep decay or trauma and suggests your tooth may be in its death throes. Sometimes the pulp infection travels into the surrounding periodontal (peri – around; odont – tooth) tissues and causes an abscess to develop. This absolutely requires immediate attention.
- Residual Sensitivity from Dental Work. Removal of decay before placing a filling can cause tooth sensitivity. It can take 1-4 weeks or so to improve.
- Sinus Pain. Congestion can cause “referred” pain in the upper teeth. When the congestion subsides, the pain should, too.
As you can see, it's risky to discount tooth pain and “wait ‘til it goes away.” Our office can help you determine the origin of your pain and the best course of action to resolve it. When in doubt, it's always better to err on the side of caution!
If you would like more information about tooth pain and ways to prevent or treat it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!” and “Sensitive Teeth.”