Remedies for Toothaches & Swollen Gums

Woman having toothache in bathroom
A woman experiencing tooth pain in the bathroom mirror. (Image: Alliance/iStock/Getty Images)

Anyone who has ever experienced a toothache is aware of how severe tooth pain can be. In contrast, pain from swollen gums is barely noticeable. There are several reasons for toothaches and swollen gums, including cavities, infection and the perplexing fractured tooth syndrome. Short-term measures can provide relief even before seeing a dentist.

Toothache Pain Remedies

Female dentist and dental assistant working on male patient, close-up
A dentist and hygenist treating a patient. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Because the mouth is quite complex, have any oral symptoms evaluated by a dentist as soon as practical. In fact, one reason toothaches are so painful is that nerves within a tooth transmit only one sensation -- pain. Regardless of whether nerves are responding to cold, pressure or decay, the signals are sent to the brain to be registered as pain.

The most common reason for a toothache is decay encroaching on nerves at the tooth's center. If cold precipitates pain, it should be avoided, but if heat precipitates pain, ice may help. If pain is constant, a regular regimen of analgesics is indicated. Over-the-counter medications include acetaminophen (Tylenol, Cetafen) and the nonsteroidal antiinflammatories, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Two different analgesics can be taken simultaneously when one does not provide relief, but always follow the directions on the product's label.

Management of Traumatic Tooth Pain

woman at the dentist
A woman being consoled at the dentist's office. (Image: LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images)

External blunt trauma to a tooth results in a somewhat different type of pain, as it arises from nerves in the ligament surrounding the root. Applying ice to bruised lips will help reduce swelling and overall pain, but it will have little effect on tooth pain. If trauma misaligns the tooth, clenching or chewing may cause pain. In dental trauma situations, taking over-the-counter analgesics will provide some relief until a dentist can be consulted.

Treatment of Cracked Tooth Syndrome

asian boy eating an apple
A boy experiencing pain while eating an apple. (Image: harreha/iStock/Getty Images)

Cracked tooth syndrome often challenges patients and dentists. It occurs when the tooth develops a microscopic fracture. The fracture can’t be detected orally or even on radiographs, and diagnosis is based predominantly on symptoms. A sharp fleeting pain is sensed intermittently during eating, and only when chewing forces are applied at a specific angle. Avoid chewing on the involved side until a dentist can treat the fracture with an onlay -- a partial crown -- or a crown. Habits such as chewing on ice or bones can lead to cracked tooth syndrome.

Care of Swollen Gums

Gums examination. Close up
A close-up of a pick cleaning a teeth and gums. (Image: Batke/iStock/Getty Images)

While there are numerous causes for swollen gums, the main culprits include periodontal disease -- gingivitis and periodontitis -- or pregnancy gingivitis, which is associated with natural changes during pregnancy. Swelling and inflammation may indicate an active infection and be accompanied by redness, bleeding or pain. Definitive relief is achieved by mechanical removal of calculus and biofilm -- dental plaque -- with a professional dental cleaning and antibiotics, although home care is vital. This entails effective brushing, flossing and use of an alcohol-free antibacterial mouthwash or spray, such as buffered chlorine dioxide or warm saltwater rinses. Oil of cloves solutions or gels containing benzocaine (Orajel, Anbesol) provide temporary relief.

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