Tooth and Gum Pain: Care Instructions

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A tooth with decay

Your Care Instructions

The most common causes of dental pain are tooth decay and gum disease. Pain can also be caused by an infection of the tooth (abscess) or the gums. Or you may have pain from a broken or cracked tooth. Other causes of pain include infection and damage to a tooth from nervous grinding of your teeth.

A wisdom tooth can be painful when it is coming in but cannot break through the gum. It can also be painful when the tooth is only partway in and extra gum tissue has formed around it. The tissue can get inflamed (pericoronitis), and sometimes it gets infected.

Prompt dental care can help find the cause of your toothache and keep the tooth from dying or gum disease from getting worse. Self-care at home may reduce your pain and discomfort.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your dentist, doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • To reduce pain and facial swelling, put an ice or cold pack on the outside of your cheek for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Do not use heat.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Avoid very hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks if they increase your pain.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water every 2 hours to help relieve pain and swelling. Mix 5 g (1 teaspoon) of salt in 250 mL (8 ounces) of water.
  • Talk to your dentist about using special toothpaste for sensitive teeth. To reduce pain on contact with heat or cold or when brushing, brush with this toothpaste regularly or rub a small amount of the paste on the sensitive area with a clean finger 2 or 3 times a day. Floss gently between your teeth.
  • Do not smoke or use spit tobacco. Tobacco use can make gum problems worse, decreases your ability to fight infection in your gums, and delays healing. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have trouble breathing.

Call your dentist, doctor, or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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