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Toothache and swelling

4-minute read

What is toothache and swelling?

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

If you don’t treat it, toothache can get worse. Visit a dentist as soon as you can.

What symptoms relate to toothache and swelling?

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

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our 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 could be caused by dental problems such as tooth decay, a dental injury, a cracked tooth, a loose filling or a broken filling, inflammation of the pulp inside your tooth, receding gums or a dental abscess.

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

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if you have a fever, trouble breathing or swallowing, or you have 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.

Looking after yourself

If you are in pain, get advice from your treating healthcare practitioner 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 after every meal 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 nauseous or vomit.

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.

Can toothache and swelling be prevented?

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

  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • avoid sugary and fatty foods
  • drink water containing fluoride
  • avoid smoking

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: December 2019

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