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Tooth Troubles

Toothaches are no fun. But a toothache is a sign that something isn’t right. If your child is suffering from the pain of a toothache, it could be a cavity or another dental problem. Either way, your dentist can help.

What Causes a Toothache?

A toothache can have several causes. The most common is tooth decay. Once the pulp (the inside of the tooth that has tissue and nerves) becomes irritated, it causes tooth pain. Your child may first notice this decay if he or she has pain when eating sweet foods or food or drinks that are very hot or very cold.

Other causes of a toothache can include periodontal (gum) disease, infection, grinding of the teeth, a trauma to the tooth, and an abnormal bite. Babies and young children may also experience tooth pain when new teeth are coming in.

Sometimes, pain that is felt in the mouth is actually caused by something else, such as an ear or sinus infection.

How Is a Toothache Diagnosed?

Because the symptoms of a toothache may resemble other medical conditions or dental problems, you should consult your child’s dentist for a diagnosis. A toothache is usually diagnosed based on a complete oral exam. The dentist will look for redness, signs of swelling, and other tooth damage. He or she also may use X-rays of the teeth to look for problems that can’t be seen during a regular oral exam.

Once the cause of the toothache is found, your child’s dentist will treat the problem. Depending on the cause of the toothache, the dentist may prescribe antibiotics or a pain medicine to help treat the pain.

Is There Any Home Treatment?

If the dentist cannot see your child right away, you can attempt to soothe the pain of a toothache with some home treatments while you’re waiting.

  • Gently floss teeth to dislodge any trapped food particles.

  • Give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen. Aspirin should not be given to children or teenagers because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.

  • If the tooth or mouth has been injured, place a cold compress on your child’s cheek to help reduce pain and swelling. Do not place a painkiller on the gums near the toothache. That could burn the gum tissue. Also, call your dentist and give him or her the details of the injury.

What About Prevention?

The best way to prevent toothaches is to teach your child good oral hygiene habits. This includes:

  • Brushing gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line.

  • Flossing at least once a day.

  • Visiting your dentist for routine checkups.

“Toothaches.”U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, February 22, 2013. Accessed 2013.

“What Causes a Toothache?” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. Accessed 2013.

“Dental Emergencies.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Reye syndrome.” Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. August 1, 2012. Accessed 2013.

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