A child's toothache is no fun for either the child or the parent. But if you're faced with this situation, don't panic — unless they have a fever or you notice facial swelling, it's unlikely an emergency.
Instead, take the following steps:
Find out where it hurts and for how long. Tooth pain can stem from a lot of causes, including decay or a localized area of infection called an abscess. See if your child can tell you if it's coming from one particular tooth or from a general area. Although children can't always judge how long they've hurt, try to get a general idea so you'll know if you need to call us sooner rather than later.
Look for problem signs in the mouth. As you look where they say it hurts, see if you can see brown spots or cavities on any teeth — this would indicate tooth decay. Look also at the gums or inner areas of the mouth for sores or swelling. Unless they've had an injury, this could indicate an abscess.
Try to dislodge any food shards between teeth. It's also possible the pain is coming from a piece of hard food like a popcorn kernel wedged between their teeth. Help them gently floss between the teeth to see if you can dislodge any.
Try to ease the pain. Although you may not need to see us immediately, your child's mouth still aches. You can help relieve it temporarily with a child's dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can also apply an ice pack to the outside cheek for swelling, but don't apply the ice directly to the skin, which can burn it. And don't rub aspirin or other pain relievers on the gums — they're acidic and can irritate soft tissue.
See us for a full examination. It's wise to have any tooth pain checked — the question is often how soon. You should see us the same day or first thing in the morning if the pain has persisted for more than a day or night, pain relievers haven't eased the pain or they have fever or facial swelling. If the pain is short-lived you can usually wait until the next day — but do get it checked out.
If you would like more information on treating your child's toothache, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Child's Toothache.”