Toothache: self-care

General Information

Toothache is a common dental complaint. Pain may be felt in the affected tooth; however, in some people, the pain may feel like it is coming from your head, sinuses, jaw or ear. Most people describe the pain as throbbing and continuous. Sometimes pain and swelling in the jaw can be a sign of a tooth infection or abscess.

Toothache is usually caused by dental decay, which is in turn caused by acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. These acids break down sugars and attack tooth enamel. The corrosion of tooth enamel can mean exposure of the nerve endings in your teeth, which is why you feel pain. Toothache can also occur because of broken teeth, a lost filling, a recently restored tooth, or due to sinusitis (inflammation of the sinus cavities in the face).

Typically, you feel toothache when chewing and your teeth may be sensitive to hot or cold food. Depending on the severity, people may also develop bleeding around the tooth or gums. If pain improves, the nerve ending may have died. However, tooth decay does not go away and your tooth will continue decaying unless a dentist treats it. If pain intensifies or there is swelling, the tissues surrounding your tooth could be infected and require treatment.

Although good oral hygiene is important in preventing tooth decay, other reasons, such as hereditary factors and lack of saliva, can also cause it. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay because it neutralises acids and helps clear acids and bacteria from your mouth.

Regular dental check-ups can prevent dental decay and major dental surgery, such as root canal treatments.

See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

  • if you have inflammation (redness), abscess or fever
  • if you feel generally unwell
  • if you have a swollen jaw or face
  • if you have an injury caused by trauma, such as a blow to the mouth
  • if you have other symptoms, such as dry eyes and dry mouth
  • if the person with tooth pain is elderly, or a child
  • if you take other medicines that cause a dry mouth
  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as some medicines may not be suitable

Treatment Tips

Tips for healthy teeth and gums:

  • brush your teeth twice daily and gently brush your gums and tongue
  • fluoride in toothpaste and water can help prevent tooth decay
  • dental floss and interdental brushes help reduce tooth decay by removing food and plaque from between your teeth
  • mouthwashes containing antiseptics temporarily lower the number of bacteria in your saliva
  • people with sensitive teeth often have different reactions to toothpastes designed for sensitive teeth, and may have to try a number of products before they find one that suits them
  • use a soft toothbrush to prevent damaging your gums
  • chewing sugar-free gum stimulates saliva production
  • limit sugary foods and drinks
  • do not smoke
  • visit a dentist regularly (every six months)

Treatment Options

  • use temporary pain relief until you visit a dentist
  • do not use aspirin for tooth pain as this can increase the risk of bleeding when your dentist treats you
  • always tell your dentist which pain reliever you have taken before they treat you
  • some pain relievers are not suitable for everyone; check with your pharmacist
  • apply a cold compress against the cheek to reduce swelling
  • avoid very hot or cold foods

Oral pain relievers (analgesics)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. paracetamol, packets of 24 or fewer (Panadol range)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. paracetamol, larger pack sizes (Panadol range, Panamax, Paracetamol Sandoz); paracetamol suspension (Dymadon Suspension 1 Month to 2 Years, Dymadon Suspension 2 to 12 Years, Panadol (Children))

  • paracetamol is a safe choice for most people but it is important not to take more than recommended
  • paracetamol is an ingredient in many cold and flu remedies, so be careful not to double dose
  • the maximum daily dose for an adult is 4 g (4000 mg), and no more than 1 g (1000 mg) every four hours
  • see manufacturer’s directions for children’s doses (dose by weight for children)

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. ibuprofen, packets of 24 or fewer (Advil Tablets, Advil Liquid Caps, Nurofen range)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. ibuprofen, larger pack sizes (Advil Tablets, Advil Liquid Caps, Nurofen, Rafen); ibuprofen suspension (Dimetapp Children's Ibuprofen Pain & Fever Relief Suspension, Dimetapp Infant's Ibuprofen Colour Free Pain & Fever Relief Suspension, iProfen Suspension for Children, Nurofen for Children; diclofenac (Voltaren Rapid 12.5 mg)

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. diclofenac 25 mg (Voltaren Rapid 25)

[PRESCRIPTION MEDICINE]
e.g. diclofenac, stronger strengths (Voltaren Rapid 50 mg)

  • NSAIDs relieve pain and reduce inflammation (redness)
  • ibuprofen has been recommended for dental pain
  • paracetamol and NSAIDs can be used together as they work differently. They are usually given at different times; see your pharmacist for dosing advice
  • do not use aspirin for tooth pain as it can increase the risk of bleeding when your dentist treats you
  • NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone. Check with your pharmacist before taking NSAIDs if you:
    • have a history of stomach problems, such as ulcers or indigestion
    • have asthma; some people with asthma find their condition is made worse by these types of medicines
    • have kidney problems or a heart condition
    • take other medications (e.g. for blood pressure, arthritis or sports injuries; lithium or warfarin)
    • have an allergy to aspirin or NSAIDs
    • are pregnant or breastfeeding
    • are dehydrated

Sometimes NSAIDs can cause side effects. It is important to take these products with a glass of water and food to minimise heartburn. If you develop indigestion, or unusual or increased bleeding or bruising, stop taking them and talk to your pharmacist.

Combination analgesics

Ibuprofen + paracetamol

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Combigesic, Maxigesic, Mersynofen, Nuromol

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. Ibupane

Aspirin + codeine

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. Codis

Ibuprofen + codeine

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. packets of 24 or fewer (Nurofen Plus, Panafen Plus)

Paracetamol + codeine

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. packets of 24 or fewer (Codapane, Panadeine)

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. larger pack sizes (Codalgin, Fiorinal, Mersyndol Day Strength, Panadeine Extra, Panamax Co)

Analgesic+ Sedating Antihistamine

[PRESCRIPTION ONLY FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2018]
e.g. Fiorinal-Dental, Mersyndol, Panalgesic

  • these medicines are used for moderate pain and contain two or more ingredients that relieve pain in different ways
  • see the warnings above relating to individual ingredients, particularly for ibuprofen
  • codeine reduces perception of your pain by blocking pain signals from nerves in your body
  • products containing codeine may cause constipation
  • products containing a sedating antihistamine can make you drowsy; do not drive when taking them, and avoid alcohol. They may not be appropriate for people with certain medical conditions or taking certain medications
  • always follow the directions on the packet and do not take more than the recommended dose

Topical pain relief

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. clove oil (Oral-eze Dental Emergency Toothache Medication)

  • apply to the affected tooth with a cotton wool swab
  • clove oil is irritating and may damage gum tissue and teeth
  • keep clove oil out of reach of children as it is harmful if swallowed
  • not to be used for longer than 48 hours

More Information

Availability of medicines

  • GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
  • PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
  • PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.
  • PRESCRIPTION ONLY available only with a prescription from your doctor or other health professional.

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Last Reviewed: 10 January 2018
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