Symptom Definition

  • Pain or discomfort in a tooth

General Information

  • Main cause of toothache is tooth decay (cavities).
  • Complications of tooth decay can also cause a toothache, for example: abscess (pus pocket) around base of tooth and skin infection of cheek area overlying a tooth.
  • Caution: Rarely individuals may have a toothache or jaw pain as the sole symptom of a heart attack. Usually there will be other accompanying symptoms of a heart problem, such as: chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and/or sweating.

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Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If:

  • Very weak (can't stand)

Call Your Dentist or Doctor Now (night or day) If:

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Fever is present
  • Face is swollen
  • Tongue is very swollen and tender
  • Severe pain

Call Your Dentist Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Toothache present longer than 24 hours
  • Brown cavity visible in the painful tooth
  • Red or yellow lump (pus pocket) present at the gum line of the painful tooth

Call Your Dentist During Weekday Office Hours If:

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Easy bleeding present in other family members
  • Hard-to-stop nosebleeds are a recurrent problem

Self Care at Home If:

  • Mild toothache present less than 24 hours and you don't think you need to be seen


  1. Reassurance: Most toothaches are temporary and due to a sensitive tooth.  If the pain becomes worse or doesn't resolve in 24 hours, it could due to a small cavity.
  2. Floss: Floss on either side of the painful tooth to remove any wedged food.
  3. Pain Medication: For pain relief, take acetaminophen every 4-6 hours (e.g. Tylenol; adult dosage 650 mg) OR ibuprofen every 6-8 hours (e.g. Advil, Motrin; adult dosage 400 mg).
    • Do not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of anti-inflammatory drug. Do not take ibuprofen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • Read the package instructions thoroughly on all medications that you take.
  4. Local Cold: Apply an ice pack to the painful jaw for 20 minutes
  5. Expected Course: Most minor causes of toothache resolve in less than a day.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Toothache persists longer than 24 hours
    • The toothache becomes worse or develops any of the "Call Your Dentist" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004 David Thompson, M.D. FACEP

Reviewed 8/2004

Revised 8/2003

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