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Toothache and swelling

2-minute read

If you have a toothache, it could be caused by:

  • tooth decay
  • a cracked tooth
  • a loose filling or a broken filling
  • inflammation of the pulp inside your tooth
  • receding gums
  • a dental abscess.

You can also have painful teeth if you have a sinus infection, a mouth ulcer or a problem with your jaw.

Toothache sometimes starts very suddenly. It can cause pain and discomfort that ranges from mild to very severe. The pain may affect not only your tooth, but also your head, ear and jaw. The pain may be constant, throbbing, or it may come and go. If you have toothache, you may also have a:

  • swelling around your tooth and inside your mouth
  • swelling of your jaw and face
  • pain when chewing
  • bleeding from your tooth or gums
  • sensitivity to hot, cold or sweet food.

Looking after yourself

There are a number of things you can do to help relieve any pain and discomfort you may be feeling.

  • If you are in pain, get advice on pain relief medicines you can take. Take them regularly and always follow the instructions on the packet.
  • Make sure you keep your teeth and mouth clean. Brush your teeth twice a day – once in the morning and once at bedtime – using fluoride toothpaste. If your mouth is sore, use a soft toothbrush.
  • Eat foods that are easy to chew and swallow and avoid drinks that are very hot or very cold.
  • Try lying with your head propped up on a pillow, as lying flat can sometimes make dental pain feel worse.
  • Using clove oil or gargling aspirin are not recommended.
  • Salt water might help. Mix one teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water, then take a mouthful of the liquid and hold it in your mouth so it covers your affected tooth for two minutes, then spit it out. Do not swallow it. Salt water should not be given to children because they may accidentally swallow it, which could make them sick.
  • Try using a cold compress against the side of your face. Wrap an ice pack in a cloth before placing it against your skin.
  • If you smoke, try to cut down or quit.

Call your dentist if:

  • Your toothache persists for more than two days
  • you have a fever
  • you have an infection (swelling, pain when you bite, red gums or a discharge that tastes bad)
  • you have trouble breathing or swallowing.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2017

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