Toothache From Cavity

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When you understand HOW and WHY things happen, your actions for treatment and prevention are vastly improved.

If you just want to know WHAT ACTIONS TO TAKE, scroll down.

If you’re in a real hurry, click the Print This Page button and take this information with you.

Emergencies - Potential causes

Cavities are the big results of a microscopic problem. There are several variables involved causing cavities, but it generally comes down to two:

  1. Plaque bacteria left undisturbed for at least 7 days. This includes anywhere on the tooth where brushing/flossing isn’t done well, natural pits and grooves in the teeth, anything hard associated with the teeth such as damaged fillings or even braces and retainers.
  2. Simple carbohydrates (sugar being the biggest culprit) in the diet. This feeds the bacteria which in turn produce acid. This acid is what eats holes (cavities) in the teeth.

If you really want to understand cavities so you can prevent them, be sure to read the blog posts that give greater detail. Click here

Emergencies - Symptoms

Cavities are usually not painful. Sometimes your child becomes aware of them by a tooth becoming

  1. Sensitive to cold
  2. Sensitive to sweet
  3. Sensitive to heat (a far more sinister symptom)
  4. Generally painful
  5. Broken. Cavities can undermine healthy enamel from inside and so suddenly a piece of the outer tooth will break away.

Emergencies - Relieve pain

Children's TylenolAny OTC (Over The Counter) medicine you might give your child for a headache, but NOT aspirin. Aspirin can cause damage to young children and bleeding problems if your dentist has to remove your child’s tooth or perform other surgery. Standard OTC pain relievers can include Acetaminophen (example: Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (examples: Motrin or Advil).

Temporary filling materialTemporary filling material can be purchased at most drug stores or pharmacy section at big box stores. This will cover the hole and often prevent further pain until a dentist can fix it permanently. If your child also has a temporary crown, these materials can be used to temporarily recement them if they come off.

Clove oilClove oil (believe it or not, the most common temporary filling a dentist might place contains eugenol or concentrated clove oil). Put a drop or two on cotton swab to apply. DON’T leave swab in child’s mouth as there is risk of swallowing or (worse) inhalation. NOTE: Clove oil can mildly burn the gums so be careful to apply only to the cavity of the tooth.

Petroleum jellyPetroleum jelly (example: Vaseline). Sometimes cavities become painful due to exposure of the inner part of the tooth. This inner part has microscopic pores in it. Petroleum jelly is an inert substance that can block those pores temporarily and relieve the pain from exposure. A small layer that thoroughly covers is enough and can be placed with a cotton swab or your finger. It will work best if you FIRST blot dry the cavity with a tissue or other moisture-absorbent material.

Warm salt waterWarm salt water rinse may sometimes reduce toothache from cavities. Mix a teaspoon of salt in a cup of very warm water (as warm as your child can comfortably hold in their mouth without burning). Have your child take a big sip and hold the solution in the mouth for about 20 seconds. Repeat this procedure until the pain is relieved or the cup is used up.

Emergencies - What to do

Cavities are usually not a health-threatening emergency that requires urgent attention, although no one wants to see their child in pain. Try one of the methods above to relieve pain until you can get to the dentist.

Schedule your child with the dentist as soon as convenient. You may need to ask for an emergency appointment to be seen sooner. However, if it’s at all possible to wait, schedule time for a complete exam that includes x-rays. They are still the best method we have for detecting cavities between the teeth while they’re still small.

Back to the List of Emergencies Page

NOTE: Any recommendations given can only be construed as general information. It is impossible for me to know your specific circumstances. I am not your family’s personal dentist. This material should NOT be used to diagnose the presence or absence of any particular ailment. This information is not intended to be a substitute for the services of a locally qualified dental health care professional. Any application of the material found on this website is at the reader’s discretion and is her or his sole responsibility. If there is any question, contact your dentist or other qualified dental health care professional.
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