Although tooth is the tiniest part of our body, when it starts to pain, it can become a nightmare. Everyone is filled with dread when it comes to having a toothache.

The discomfort caused by a toothache can make a person functionally non-active and even lead to sleepless nights.

A toothache interferes with some of our essential oral functions like chewing food, speaking, drinking, etc.

Not only does it affect our mental health but also impacts our overall health. It is essential to know the necessary medications available to relieve a toothache. At least till the time you consult a dentist.

Besides the natural remedies, medicines provide quick relief for a more extended period and help you to resume back to work.

Although medications can help you relieve a toothache, they are not a permanent solution to your dental problems. A dental check-up is equally essential.

Let’s dive into the article to learn about a toothache and the commonly available medications that can relieve it.

What do you mean by a toothache?

A pain in the tooth usually originates either within the tooth structure or in the surrounding bone and gums. Clinically a toothache is also referred to as Odontalgia or Odontogenic pain.

It is usually dull but can be a sharp pinpoint pain if it involves the pulpal tissue. It is constant and often causes discomfort to the patient especially while sleeping.

Whatever the case may be, a toothache always indicates a dental problem in the oral cavity and draws attention towards getting professional help.

What causes a toothache?

  • Tooth decay or a cavity in the tooth – This is the most common cause of a toothache. It presents as a dull continuous pain.
  • Infected pulp – When the decay involves the pulpal tissue it causes infection of the pulp and produces a sharp continuous pain which increases during sleeping.
  • Tooth abscess – An infection of the tooth that spreads to the surrounding bone may affect the gums as well. It forms a pus-filled swelling called as an abscess.
  • Fractured tooth – A fractured tooth often exposes the underlying layers of the tooth like the dentin and the pulp that lead to a toothache
  • Bruxism or teeth grinding
  • Ill-fitting tooth crowns or dental bridges
  • Fractured dental restorations
  • Gum disease or advanced periodontal disease
  • Wisdom tooth – Sometimes due to poor accessibility and impaction, the area around a wisdom tooth becomes infected and causes pain
  • Sinusitis – Inflammation of maxillary sinus can cause referred pain to the upper molars. (1)

What are the symptoms associated with a toothache?

A toothache may present in a wide range depending on the cause, severity, and character of the pain.

  • Most common representation is of a dull or sharp continuous pain that can start spontaneously
  • Pain that begins in the tooth and extends till the temple area of the head
  • Pain associated with chewing or biting
  • Constant throbbing type of pain that involves the gums and the surrounding tissues
  • Swelling and redness around the gums
  • Bleeding of gums or pus discharge that may bring a bad taste in the mouth
  • Referred pain to the neck or the ear
  • Fever

What are the types of medications available?

Whatever the cause of a toothache may be, it is always associated with the tooth or the surrounding supportive tissue, i.e., the gums and the alveolar bone.

Depending on the extent, severity and presence of an infection. The medication for a toothache is divided into two categories:

  • Over the counter pain medication
  • Prescription pain medications

A doctor or a dentist only recommend prescription pain medications. It generally includes antibiotics to treat dental infection and narcotics to relieve post-operative dental pain.

These medicines are carefully prescribed after a thorough oral examination and diagnosis.

Although it is always best to consult a dentist before taking any medication, you can still relieve your toothache temporarily by using some of the common over the counter pain relievers.

What is the best over the counter medication for a toothache?

A toothache can occur unexpectedly and may persist for a few hours during your busy schedule. At that time, over the counter medications can come in handy to temporarily manage the dental pain.

There are three broad categories that you can choose from depending on the type of pain and the location of the pain you experience.

NSAIDs – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

NSAIDs are the most commonly used medicines for a toothache. These medicines help to relieve mild to moderate tooth pain and inflammation; so they reduce the pain and also decreases the swelling associated with it. (2)

Care must be taken in patients with asthma or uncontrolled hypertension as NSAIDs may interfere and worsen such conditions. The most commonly used NSAIDs for a toothache are:

  • Ibuprofen – It is considered the best NSAID for quick relief from pain. It has an added anti-inflammatory effect and works well for almost all types of toothaches.
    One drawback of ibuprofen is that it may cause acidity in some patients. Commonly used medicines in this category are Advil, Motrin, and Neurofen. (3)
  • Aspirin – It is a well-known pain reliever in the dental field. In addition to the NSAID properties, aspirin also helps to reduce the fever.
    Some common side effects may include nausea and irritation to the stomach.

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen commonly known as paracetamol is used to treat mild to moderate dental pain. Like NSAIDs, it has an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and an added anti-pyretic effect.

Although NSAIDs work better to relieve a toothache, acetaminophen acts faster and can be taken in patients who are allergic to medications under NSAIDs.

Commonly used acetaminophen medications include Panadol and Tylenol.

Topical anesthetic gels

Orajel and Anbesol are the most popularly known topical gels that help to ease a toothache. These gels are applied directly on the affected tooth and the surrounding oral tissue.

The prime element used in these gels is benzocaine which provides the anesthetic property. These gels can be easily applied to relieve a toothache in children and even adults.

The only disadvantage is that they don’t have a long-lasting effect. (4)

Precautions to take before buying a medicine

Before purchasing any medication without doctor’s consultation make sure you look for some information as follows:

  • Children should not take aspirin as it increases the risk of developing Reye’s syndrome that affects the brain and liver
  • Gels containing benzocaine should not be used in children less than two years of age
  • For infants, numbing gels with low concentrations can be used and applied directly on the affected tooth
  • Always keep a check on your allergies to any component of the medication

Take away message

Toothaches may occur at any time and differ in severity. Many causes can result in pain. Your prime goal should be to maintain your oral health to prevent such situations from occurring.

However, if you experience a toothache, you can relieve it by taking proper medications but remember that this is not the permanent solution to your dental problems.

Always consult a dentist to get an oral examination and appropriate treatment and switch to the prescribed medications as advised.

Be cautious before buying a pain medication on your own. Keep a good check on the dosage and the components of the medicine.

Over the counter & prescription medications, such as NSAIDs, Acetaminophen, Topical anesthetic gels, are available as toothache medications.