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Pain from a toothache is the worst! Especially in kids – you can’t see it, it doesn’t go away on its own and you can’t massage it like a muscle knot. It’s also a loud indicator of a serious problem that requires immediate attention from a Pediatric Dentist.

Most toothaches are caused by cavities or tooth decay. The pain your child feels – usually when they eat or drink something very hot or very cold or sweet – is an alarm bell telling you that the pulp is irritated. The pulp is the soft part inside the tooth that has blood vessels and nerves. If something is wrong with the pulp, you’ll feel it in the entire tooth and sometimes even the jaw.

In addition to tooth decay, a toothache may also be caused by:

  • Tooth fracture – this can happen during sports when your child sustains an abrupt blow to the face. The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (NYSSF) estimates that players who don’t wear mouth guards are 60x more likely to damage their teeth this way during competition. Sometimes a tooth trauma is only discovered at your child’s regular dental checkup since a cracked tooth isn’t always visible to the naked eye and may not definitely experience pain. While a fracture may seem small, it can completely weaken the health of a tooth and should be cared for properly.
  • Abscessed tooth – if a “gum boil” or “pimple” is  seen near the gum line, that means a pus pocket has formed within the root of the tooth and the decay has now become a tooth abscess or infection. Pain related to an abscess can be severe and throbbing. If not treated, the abscess will erode through the bone and affect a developing adult tooth bud as well. If your child has any of these symptoms, they need to see a dentist immediately.
  • Inflamed gums – the medical name for irritated gums is Gingivitis. Inflamed gums are red and tender. If tooth brushing and flossing are infrequent or poorly done, the gums will usually start to bleed whenever a child or parent tries to brush/floss again. To prevent the gum inflammation and the discomfort it typically brings, daily brushing and flossing with parental help is required for a child.
  • Grinding teeth – if your teenager has an aching jaw or tooth with no signs of tooth decay or gum disease, they may be experiencing Bruxism or teeth grinding. If left untreated, chronic tooth grinding can wear away tooth enamel, putting your teen’s teeth at increased risk for jaw discomfort, loss of enamel, and increased tooth sensitivity. Your teen’s dentist may recommend a mouth guard to wear at night to help alleviate Bruxism once all the permanent teeth have erupted. Generally, young children who grind teeth do not experience the long term negative effects on their teeth. However, teeth grinding can be an indication of Sleep Disordered Breathing when in conjunction with other symptoms.

To care for a mild toothache:

  • Plain warm water (never hot or cold) with a teaspoon of table salt can help relieve the tenderness. Your child should rinse their mouth out with the salt water whenever they feel pain.
  • Floss on either side of the painful tooth to remove any pieces of debris.
  • Sometimes children’s Motrin or Tylenol may also be needed to manage pain.

If the toothache lasts more than 24 hours, or if the toothache gets worse, call your Pediatric Dentist!