Toothaches are never fun. For children, especially young children, they can be overwhelming and confusing. A variety of factors can cause a toothache – tooth decay, incoming teeth, cavities, plaque, a broken tooth, or food or debris trapped between teeth. Sometimes, a toothache may not actually be caused by an oral issue at all (a great example is if your child has a cold and is very congested. Congestion can sometimes cause ear and tooth pain).
If you have ruled out something like a head cold, the first step to treating a child’s toothache is identifying the cause. In order to ensure that your child’s tooth pain passes quickly, here are the steps you should take when your child is faced with a toothache:
If your child is old enough to engage in a conversation, ask them to point to where they are experiencing pain. Ask them to describe what it feels like and what they were doing when the pain started. If your child is younger and cannot speak, look around his or her mouth (inside and outside) for swelling, gum and cheek redness, tooth discoloration, and for a tooth that is loose, chipped, or cracked.
Sometimes, tooth pain is the result of food being caught between the teeth. If there are no signs of discoloration or obvious injuries to the mouth, help your child floss around the area affected. It is important to be gentle as your child’s gums may be sensitive. If your child has braces and has a difficult time flossing, consider using an oral irrigator like a Waterpik instead of floss.
Killing bacteria is important, especially if your child has tooth pain. Rinsing his or her mouth out with warm salt water can help kill the bacteria surrounding the affected tooth and will help the area heal faster. Mix about a teaspoon of table salt with a cup of warm water, have your child rinse his or her mouth with the salt water for about 30 seconds and then spit it out.
Use a Cold Compress
Applying a cold compress to the outer cheek on the side of the mouth that is affected can soothe the area and help to reduce pain and swelling. Apply the compress for 15 minutes, let the face rest for 15 minutes, and reapply as needed.
Try Pain Medication
An anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used to help reduce your child’s discomfort. Be sure to read the label to ensure that you are giving your child the proper dosage for his or her age. Do not try to rub the pain medication directly onto your child’s gums. If you need a topical pain reliever, try clove oil.
Contact a Pediatric Dentist
None of the above remedies should be used if there is an injury requiring emergency care. Contact your child’s dentist right away if you notice that a tooth is broken, discolored, or loose and if your child is in a great deal of pain. If the pain seems to come and go, however, try to make an appointment relatively soon as this pain could point towards something like a cavity that will need to be treated. Of course, if your child’s pain is too severe to wait or if he or she is also experiencing fatigue, fever, or is vomiting, it is best to head to the emergency room to err on the side of caution.
Ultimately, the type of treatment required for your child’s tooth pain will be determined by your child’s doctor or dentist. The most common treatments for toothaches are usually antibiotics (to rid the mouth of any infections that may be present), over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, repairing the damaged tooth and/or filling any cavities.
In some severe cases, tooth extraction may be necessary. Do not try to treat your child’s toothache at home if it is recurring, if the tooth is injured, discolored, or loose, or if it is accompanied by swelling, bleeding, or redness.
Toothaches aside, the best way to ensure that your child’s mouth remains healthy is by scheduling regular check-ups with his or her pediatric dentist and by engaging in daily brushing and flossing and eating a tooth-healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.