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Toothache and swelling

5-minute read

What is toothache and swelling?

Toothache and swelling happens when there’s a problem with your teeth or gums, causing pain and discomfort.

If you don’t treat it, toothache can get worse. This can affect your overall health and wellbeing. Visit a dentist as soon as you can.

What symptoms relate to toothache and swelling?

Toothache can start suddenly. It can cause pain and discomfort that ranges from mild to very severe. The pain can be constant, throbbing, or it may come and go. It can also affect your head, ear and jaw.

If you have toothache, you may also have:

  • 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

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the teeth and dental problems Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes toothache and swelling?

If you have a toothache, it can be caused by dental problems such as:

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

Cross section of an adult human molar.
Cross section of an adult human molar.

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if you have:

  • a fever (a temperature over 38⁰C)
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • an infection (your mouth is red, swollen, painful and there’s a bad-tasting discharge)

Call your dentist if the toothache lasts for more than 2 days.

How is toothache and swelling diagnosed?

Your doctor or dentist will examine your teeth and may take an x-ray. They will ask you about your pain and talk about your dental history.

How is toothache and swelling treated?

Treatment will depend on the cause of the toothache or swelling. It may include a filling, root canal therapy or a crown.

If you have gum disease, your dentist will recommend regular brushing and will remove any plaque.

Treating the cause of the tooth pain or swelling will help provide pain relief.

Looking after yourself

It is important to take care of yourself until you can get treatment for your toothache or swelling.

Make sure you keep your teeth and mouth clean. Brush your teeth after every meal using fluoride toothpaste. If your mouth is sore, use a soft toothbrush.

If you smoke, try to cut down or quit.

Eat foods that are easy to chew and swallow. Avoid drinks that are very hot or very cold.

If you are in pain, ask your healthcare practitioner about pain relief medicines that you can take. Take them regularly and always follow the instructions on the packet.

If you require emergency pain relief, there are some tips you can try at home.

  • Try lying with your head propped up on a pillow, as lying flat can sometimes make dental pain feel worse.
  • Salt water may provide mild toothache relief. Mix one teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water, then take a mouthful of the liquid. 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. They may accidentally swallow it, which could make them feel sick or vomit.
  • Try using a cold compress (such as a cold pack) against the side of your face. This will help reduce swelling and provide tooth pain relief. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth before placing it against your skin.

Using clove oil or gargling aspirin are not recommended.

Can toothache and swelling be prevented?

Taking care of your mouth helps prevent toothache and swelling. As well as brushing and flossing regularly:

Complications of toothache and swelling

It’s important to fix the cause of toothache and swelling. Poor mouth health can destroy the tissues in the mouth, leading to long-term problems. It can make it harder for you to chew and swallow and can affect your nutrition and general health. Untreated dental problems can also affect your overall health.

Resources and support

Find out more about looking after your teeth on the Australian Dental Association’s website.

Get advice on mouth care.

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

Last reviewed: May 2022


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