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Home > Health Library > Toothache and Gum Problems
Toothaches and gum problems are common but usually can be prevented by taking good care of your teeth and gums. Keeping your teeth, gums, and the bones around your teeth healthy requires regular brushing, flossing, and good nutrition. Brush your teeth twice a day with an American Dental Association (ADA) accepted fluoride toothpaste. Clean between teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner. For more information on proper brushing and flossing techniques, see the topic Basic Dental Care.
Sometimes you may have tooth pain when you touch a tooth or when you eat or drink foods that are hot, cold, sweet, or sour (a sensitive tooth). Mild sensitivity can be caused by shrunken (receded) gums or a worn-down tooth. Moderate to severe sensitivity can mean a tooth has cracked, a dental cavity is present, or a filling has been lost. Seeing a dentist for treatment can prevent the tooth from dying.
The most common cause of a toothache is tooth decay, although a toothache may not be present in the early stages of decay. Other reasons for a toothache might include:
Sometimes a toothache can be caused by another health problem, such as:
Healthy gums are pink and firm and do not bleed easily. Occasionally your gums may bleed if you brush your teeth and gums too hard, use a hard-bristled toothbrush, or snap dental floss hard against your gums. Be gentle with your teeth—use a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss carefully to help prevent bleeding gums.
Gingivitis is a gum disease that causes red, swollen gums that bleed easily when brushed. Because gingivitis usually doesn't cause pain, many people delay treatment. If not treated, gum disease can cause more serious problems with the gum tissue.
Periodontitis is severe gum disease and is caused by long-term infection of the gums, bone, and other tissues that surround and support the teeth. It can progress until the bones that support the teeth are damaged. In this late stage, teeth may become loose and fall out or need to be removed. Early treatment of gum disease is important to prevent tooth loss.
Other causes of gum bleeding, swelling, and pain include:
Smoking and using other tobacco products increases your risk for gum disease. Smokers have a higher chance of having gum disease throughout their mouths than nonsmokers. You may not have symptoms of bleeding or swollen gums because the normal bleeding immune response is affected by tobacco use. Chewing tobacco or using snuff may push the gums back in the area of the mouth where the tobacco is inserted. Constant irritation caused by tobacco products increases your risk of oral cancer.
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Pain in adults and older children
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause mouth problems. A few examples are:
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
To reduce sensitivity to heat, cold, or brushing, consider using a toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth. Brush with it regularly or rub a small amount of the paste on the sensitive area with your finger 2 or 3 times a day. Floss gently between your teeth.
To reduce pain and swelling of a toothache, use an ice pack on the outside of your cheek; do not use heat. Avoid very hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks if they increase your pain.
For short-term relief, adults can apply an over-the-counter benzocaine gel to the tooth. Do not use teething gels for children younger than age 2. Ask your doctor before using mouth-numbing medicine for children older than age 2. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that some of these can be dangerous. Be safe with medicine. Read and follow all instructions on the label. If your pain lasts longer than a few days or it gets worse, call a doctor.
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
If your gums are mildly swollen and red, use a tartar-control toothpaste that contains fluoride and also use a mouthwash that contains fluoride. Make sure you brush after meals and snacks and floss every day. If you cannot brush after eating, chew sugar-free gum, use a tooth pick, or rinse your mouth with warm salt water. You can make your own salt water by mixing 1 tsp ( 5 g) of salt in a medium-sized glass [ 8 fl oz (240 mL)] of warm water.
Tobacco can cause many gum problems, decreases your ability to fight infection of your gums, and delays healing. Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Do not use illegal drugs, such as methamphetamines, which cause tooth and gum problems.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy requires good nutrition and regular brushing and flossing. To avoid a tooth or gum problem:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topicMaking the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your dentist diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:
Current as of:
July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineJohn Pope MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: July 1, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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