What to do about the pain until you can see a dentist
Most toothaches are a sign of decay-that is, of tooth deterioration caused by acids formed in the mouth by bacterial breakdown of sugars. (For measures to reduce this risk, especially in children. Decay begins with erosion of the enamel, the tooth’s hard outer covering; a small cavity forms. Untreated, decay can progress to the pulp. or heart, of the tooth, which contains nerves and blood vessels. See a dentist promptly about any toothache, however mild.
In the interim, you may be able to ease the pain with aspirin or another analgesic. If the cavity’s size and location permit, try packing it with a bit of cotton soaked with oil of cloves, a surface anesthetic available at any pharmacy. It may also help to rinse your mouth periodically with a solution of baking soda and lukewarm water.
After dental work, you may get a slightly painful reaction to sweet, sour, or hot foods or liquids. This usually passes quickly, but it can help to rinse your mouth, after eating or drinking, with warm, salted water.
Severely painful toothaches Extreme pain from heat or chewing may mean that a tooth is dying. If heat causes the pain, try holding ice cubes against the tooth. If chewing causes the pain, the tooth may be fractured, but with prompt attention it may be saved. If you can’t get to a dentist immediately and the pain keeps you awake, sleep with your head propped on two pillows.
An abcessed tooth can cause swelling as well as pain. Signs are persistent aching or throbbing that is worse when you chew. It is urgent to get to a dentist as soon as possible, especially if the swelling spreads into your face and neck. Get what relief you can from analgesics; rinse your mouth hourly with warm, salted water. If the abcess bursts (which the warm water will encourage), rinse your mouth thoroughly to wash away the pus. Pain will be relieved-but not the need to see the dentist.