If you have dental pain, it might mean you have pulpitis. Pulpitis is an infection inside the tooth and needs a dentist’s attention. There are ways you can manage the pain of pulpitis until you can make an appointment with a qualified dentist.
Causes of Pulpitis
Pulpitis gets its name from the part of the tooth where it occurs: the pulp. The pulp is the soft root of the tooth underneath the harder layers of dentin and enamel. When bacteria get into the root it can cause an infection, making the pulp inflamed and swollen. This results in pain because the swelling is trapped inside the tooth with nowhere to go.
How does dental pulp get infected? Bacteria can get into a tooth if it is cracked or broken. But the most common way is through tooth decay. Cavities can burrow all the way through tooth enamel, then through the dentin layer, and finally attack the pulp.
Two Types of Pulpitis
An infection of the pulp starts out as reversible pulpitis. Reversible pulpitis typically shows up as sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet food and drink. Patients may have stabbing and shooting pain that usually subsides once the stimulus (the food or beverage) is removed.
The good news about reversible pulpitis is that it is, indeed, reversible. As long as the root is still alive it can be returned back to normal. Treatment is usually as simple as a visit to the dentist for a filling. After the cavity is fixed, the tooth is healthy once again.
Irreversible pulpitis develops when the tooth isn’t treated and the infection grows. This can result in an abscess that can kill the tooth and damage it beyond repair. Patients with irreversible pulpitis describe dull, throbbing pain. It lingers long after eating and drinking stops. A fever, chills, or rash could indicate that the infection is spreading. If this happens, get help immediately.
A dentist has two choices to deal with irreversible pulpitis. A root canal procedure, or having the tooth pulled. The longer a patient waits to get treatment, the more painful (and expensive) the procedure will be.
It is important to consult a dentist for either reversible or irreversible pulpitis. In the meantime, there are things that can be done to alleviate the pain.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers for Pulpitis
When taken in normal doses, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or non-opioid analgesics like acetaminophen can help manage the pain of pulpitis. Higher doses may be needed to reduce inflammation.
These drugs are a good option for most people. They are readily available over-the-counter and have few side-effects. Patients should always be aware, however, of medical conditions or medications that might prohibit their use.
It was once a common practice to hold an aspirin directly on a tooth with a toothache. This is an “old wives tale.” Not only will it not help the pain, but aspirin is also highly acidic. It can burn the gums and even damage tooth enamel.
Topical Anesthetics for Dental Pain
Topical anesthetics are liquids or gels that are applied directly to the area of toothache pain. Using ingredients like benzocaine or lidocaine, they can temporarily dull the pain of pulpitis by numbing the tooth.
Different brand options are available in drugstores without a prescription. Most of them begin working in just a few minutes and give about 15 to 30 minutes of relief per dose. They are considered safe for most people, even children. Parents may be familiar with topical anesthetics for teething pain in young children.
Patients should be aware of any allergies to benzocaine and lidocaine. Otherwise, these topical anesthetics can be a good option for someone who can not take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Natural Pain Relief for Pulpitis
There are several natural, home remedies that people use to manage the pain of pulpitis. Although their effectiveness isn’t proven, many people swear by them.
Cold compresses. Applying an icepack or cold compress may be a home remedy, but it is a proven way to reduce pain and swelling. This is an easy way to feel better until a dentist can examine the tooth.
Warm salt water. Salt water offers some natural disinfecting properties. Rinsing the mouth can help clean the infected area, while the warmth of the water is soothing.
Clove oil. Try dabbing a little clove oil directly onto the tooth and surrounding gum. Many people think this numbs the pain as well as benzocaine.
Garlic. Crushing garlic releases allicin, a substance thought to relieve pain and inflammation. Some health experts claim that chewing garlic or rubbing it on a sore tooth could help to reduce toothache pain. While there are not good studies proving this, it might be worth trying, as the risk is pretty low.
The bottom line for any pain relief is that if it works for you (without doing harm) go ahead and use it.
Managing the Pain of Pulpitis is a Temporary Fix
Managing the pain is only a small part of dealing with pulpitis. All of these methods are temporary and won’t fix your tooth. Pulpitis won’t go away on its own and ignoring it can lead to more serious issues. The infection can spread to other teeth, the jaw, and sinuses.