At some time in their lives, everyone has experienced unexpected dental pain. It probably didn't show up at a convenient time (it never does) and you were probably willing to do anything to stop the pain. Fortunately, dentists are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating tooth pain. Read on to learn what we can do for patients in distress.
As a disclaimer, this article will focus mainly on pain originating from the tooth nerve. An entire spectrum of problems can present as tooth pain (sinus infections, muscle spasms, gum disease, etc.), and a thorough exam with x-rays is the only way to confirm the source of your discomfort.
The nerve in your tooth may become irritated for a number of reasons, ranging from exposure to extreme temperatures to decay and even fractures. Usually, this irritation is reversible meaning the nerve will calm down on its own. However, in certain cases the tooth can cross a threshold and become irreversibly inflamed, meaning the pain will persist until the tooth nerve dies. At this point, the nerve has to be taken out of the mouth- either via root canal or by extracting the tooth.
At an emergency visit, a dentist will evaluate what is causing the pain, the health of the tooth nerve and if the tooth is overall "fixable." If the pain is coming from a tooth with a cavity or fracture that extends down the root and beneath the gums, it may be best to extract it and consider replacement options in the future. However, if the offending problem is well isolated and treatable, you will probably want to opt for a root canal. At most emergency appointments, a dentist will not complete a full root canal. Rather, they perform a procedure called a pulpectomy, where the nerve is removed and the roots are sterilized and filled with a temporary material. This procedure ends the pain and provides short term protection against bacterial invasion of the tooth. A full root canal will be required to reliably seal the nerve space and minimize risk of re-infection.
If you can't get to a dental office right away and need relief from pain, over the counter NSAID medications like ibuprofen are excellent at treating dental discomfort. You may be tempted to request a prescription pain reliever, but these will not treat the inflammatory component of your pain like an NSAID. Before taking any medication for the first time, please consult with your dentist. If you have further questions on tooth pain, gum pain or emergency appointments, please give our office a call!