5 Questions To Determine If Your Toothache Is Caused By A Serious Medical Problem

The pain of a toothache can interfere with your entire life. There are a number of potential causes for tooth pain including gum disease, tooth decay or an abscess. However, the pain could also be caused by something else, so it's important to first rule out a dangerous medical condition, like a heart attack, by asking yourself the following series of questions:

1. Is there pain in your lower jaw, chest or shoulder?

  • Yes: Call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room because the problem may be more serious than a simple case of tooth decay or an abscess.
  • No: Continue on to the next question.

2. Do you have a fever, earache or additional pain when you open your mouth as wide as you can?

  • Yes: Get in to see your doctor as soon as possible.
  • No: Continue on to the next question.

3. Are you experiencing soreness above your cheekbones, or have nasal congestion or fever?

  • Yes: Make an appointment to see a doctor right away.
  • No: Move on to the next question.

4. Do you have any of these symptoms: bad breath after brushing your teeth, fever, bleeding gums or swelling?

  • Yes: Contact your doctor for an appointment.
  • No: Go to the next question.

5. Are you mainly experiencing tooth pain while drinking cold or hot liquids?

  • Yes: Get an appointment to see a doctor or dentist.
  • No: Contact your dentist for an appointment right away and use the following at-home pain relief treatments in the meantime. If none of these methods work to alleviate your pain, get in to see your dentist for a same-day appointment. During non-business hours, contact a 24-hour dentist.

At-Home Pain Relief Treatments                                    

Any of these treatments can be used for temporary pain relief or to take the edge off, but they will not solve the cause of your toothache so it's important to see your dentist as soon as possible.

  • Ice: Alternate holding an ice pack against your cheek for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off.
  • Heat: If heat feels better than ice, hold a hot water bottle up to your cheek for a maximum of 10 minutes at a time.
  • OTC Pain Reliever: If you're over the age of 18, take aspirin to relieve the pain. If you can't take aspirin or you're 18 or younger, use ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen.

Children and teens should not take aspirin without a doctor's consent because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome.

The worst thing you can do for tooth pain is ignore it. An unexplained toothache is a serious condition that will probably not go away on its own without professional treatment.