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Health Knowledge and Encyclopedia

At your local Pearn's Pharmacy we can offer advice on most general health matters. You can also use our Health Encyclopaedia to provide you with the tools and links you need to pinpoint symptoms and get a full explanation of a suspected condition.

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Toothache is pain around the teeth and jaw that is usually caused by dental problems such as tooth decay.

The pain can range from mild discomfort to severe throbbing in your head and ear.

Read more about the symptoms of toothache.

Dental pulp

The inside of your teeth is made up of soft, spongy tissue that contains sensitive nerves and blood vessels called dental pulp. This is surrounded by layers of tissue for protection. The outermost layer is called enamel and is harder than bone.

If the pulp becomes inflamed (pulpitis), due to dental decay and fracture in the tooth, or infection, it can cause toothache.

Mouth pain can also be caused by an abcess or ulcers on your gum or your wisdom teeth breaking through. Babies can also experience discomfort when their teeth start to develop. This is known as teething.

Read more about the causes of toothache.

When to see your dentist

If you have toothache, you should visit your dentist as soon as possible to have it treated. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get.

Painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, may help to reduce pain and discomfort while you are waiting for an appointment.

When you visit your dentist, the type of treatment you will have will depend on the problem. For example, if your toothache is caused by dental decay, your dentist will remove the decayed area and replace it with a filling.

If your toothache is not treated, the pulp inside your tooth will die and eventually become infected. This will lead to a dental abscess (a pus-filled swelling) forming, which will cause severe and continuous pain.

Read more about treating toothache.

Preventing toothache

The best way to avoid getting toothache is to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.

You should brush your teeth twice a day using toothpaste that contains flouride, as well as regularly cleaning between your teeth using dental floss.

Visit your dentist once a year for a dental check-up. Children should have a dental check-up every six months so that tooth decay can be spotted and treated early.

Read more about preventing toothache.

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Toothache often starts suddenly and the pain can vary from mild discomfort to severe. You may have a throbbing pain in your head, jaw and ear that is constant or that comes and goes.

The pain can be worse when you are eating or drinking, particularly if the food or drink is hot or cold.

The jaw in the area of the tooth may be sore and tender to the touch. The pain can also get worse when you lie down, because more pressure is put on the tooth.

Typical symptoms of toothache include:

  • increased pain when chewing
  • sensitivity to hot or cold food
  • bleeding around the tooth or gums
  • swelling around the tooth
  • swelling of the jaw
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You get toothache when the pulp (containing nerves) in the middle of your tooth becomes inflamed. This may be caused by:

  • dental decay (caries), which can lead to cavities (holes) in the hard surface of the tooth
  • a fracture (crack) in the tooth, which is often so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye
  • some types of dental treatment, such as a filling that has become loose or broken
  • receding gums (gums that have moved back), which leaves softer, more sensitive parts of the teeth exposed and may expose a tooth root

Teething in babies and young children can also cause toothache. This starts at around six months of age and can continue as the adult teeth start to come through.

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If you have toothache, it is important you see your dentist as soon as possible.

Treatment for toothache depends on what is causing the problem. Some of the possible treatment options are outlined below.

  • if your toothache is caused by tooth decay, the dentist will take out the decayed area and replace it with a filling
  • if your toothache is caused by a loose or broken filling, the filling is taken out, any decay is cleaned out and a new filling is put in
  • if the pulp of your tooth is infected, you may need to have root canal treatment, where your dentist (or a specialist called an endodontist) takes out the decayed pulp, fills the space with a paste and covers the tooth with a crown to protect and seal it

If toothache cannot be t reated by these methods, or if the tooth is impacted (wedged between another tooth and the jaw), it may need to be taken out altogether.


While you are waiting for an appointment with your dentist, to ease the pain you can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin. If you are unsure, speak to your dentist or pharmacist.

Try to avoid very hot or cold foods as they can make the pain worse.

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Keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible to avoid toothache.

  • Limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks you have. Have them as an occasional treat, and only at mealtimes.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day using a toothpaste containing fluoride. Gently brush your gums and tongue as well.
  • Clean between your teeth using dental floss. If necessary, use a mouthwash.
  • Do not smoke, as it can make some dental problems worse.
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year. Consider having your teeth cleaned occasionally by a hygienist. Children should have dental check-ups every six months so that any decay can be spotted and treated early.
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