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Teen Version

What is a toothache?

A toothache is a painful tooth. Sometimes it is just a temporarily sensitive tooth, but usually it means decay or a cavity is present. One complication of a decaying tooth is a gum boil just below the gum line. The infection in the tooth may also spread to the face (giving a swollen cheek) or to the lymph node just under the jawbone.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Flossing

    First use dental floss on either side of the painful tooth. The removal of a jammed piece of food may bring quick relief.

  • Pain relief medicine

    Treat your toothache with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). If the pain lasts more than a day or becomes severe, call your dentist. An ice cube on the tooth or ice pack on the jaw for 20 minutes will also help.

  • Oil of cloves for severe toothache

    If you cannot see a dentist for several days and an open cavity is visible, clean all food out of the cavity with a toothpick, Water-Pik, or water in a syringe. Put in a few drops of oil of cloves (80% eugenol). You won't need a prescription to get oil of cloves. If the cavity is large, pack it with a small piece of cotton soaked with oil of cloves. Try to keep the oil of cloves off the tongue because it stings. The cavity can also be temporarily sealed with melted candle wax. Just rub it in with your fingertip.

How can I prevent toothaches?

Brush your teeth, especially the back molars, after every meal. Be sure to use a fluoride toothpaste.

When should I call my dentist?


  • The pain is very severe.
  • You have a fever (over 100F, or 37.8C).
  • Your face is swollen.
  • You are feeling very sick.

Call during office hours if:

  • You have had the pain for more than a day.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-07-31
Last reviewed: 2006-03-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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