Dental Pain Management and Dental Infections

Dental Pain Management and Dental Infections

We’ve all been there…

It’s the weekend and you have a toothache.

Photo by shironosov/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by shironosov/iStock / Getty Images

We know this kind of pain can be just dull and annoying or so bad it will bring you to your knees, making you consider YouTube for at-home dentistry. (Please, don’t.)

Maybe you’ve neglected going to your dentist for a few years. Maybe you had dental work that day and you’re still needing some relief.

Don’t count on a prescription narcotic to be the only solution.

  1. Studies show how effective over-the-counter medications can be for dental pain and how not effective some prescription pain medications can be.

  2. Getting a call from any dentist after-hours may prove to be difficult, especially on holidays.

  3. Not to mention, let’s remember the raging opioid epidemic in this country.

For these reasons, many dentists and doctors aren’t so quick to bust out the prescription pad for acute pain management. Even the American Dental Association (ADA) is in support of safely using over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for managing dental pain. Before we jump into how to get some relief…. there are a few important things to remember:

Dental infections are serious.

Bacteria can move OUT of the tooth and IN to the nearby bone or tissue, causing a dental abscess and can lead to sepsis (the body’s often deadly response to infection.)

People often see their teeth as individual, disposable parts of their body, they’re actually fully linked to your whole body and can affect several systemic diseases!

whole body infection

If you have a dental infection…

Clove oil isn’t going to help, y’all. Salt water rinses and tea bags won’t either. And for the love of goodness, do not let an Aspirin (an acid) sit on your tooth or gums.

You need the help of a dental professional.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • In the case of a dental infection, pain medication and even antibiotics are only short-term solutions. You MUST seek dental treatment to fix the source of the infection.

  • If you have swelling in your mouth or jaw, especially near your airway, you should seek emergency care immediately. This is nothing to mess around with.

  • Kids often can’t describe dental pain, so especially after an injury to the mouth or teeth, watch for pimples (infection) to form on the gums. Even if it is a baby tooth.

  • When obtaining an emergency evaluation at a dental office, don’t be surprised if you’re turned away. Many dentists won’t see new patients for something like this, only established patients. (One of many reasons it’s good to have an established dental home.) If you do get an appointment, expect to wait. You’ll be worked in around patients who have reserved appointments.

    • Also, the dentist will only look at that one tooth. If you want a full mouth exam, be sure to specify this when scheduling.

  • If you felt pain (couldn’t sleep or couldn’t eat), then it “went away”, that’s not necessarily a good sign. Often, that’s a sign that the tooth may be dying. You may need a root canal treatment in order to save the tooth at this point.

  • Emergency rooms and urgent care may prescribe antibiotics or even pain medication, but they typically will not treat any dental condition (unless the facility is linked to a dental school or dental residency program.) That’s a large copay for possibly no long-term solution.

  • Don’t have the funds to treat a dental emergency? (Remember, regular dental check-ups can find problems early, before they’re expensive and painful.)

    • Be sure to check out financing options such as CareCredit, which often has no interest repayment options. There are many patient financing options out there so ask your dental office what they recommend.

    • Don’t expect a dental office, especially one you do not have an existing relationship with, to loan you the funds for care. They aren’t a bank and don’t receive grants and subsidies for financial assistance. You may need to seek out the closest dental school or community health center, who can provide financial assistance.

Now, back to managing acute dental pain without a prescription:

Every three hours you would take Ibuprofen or Tylenol, rotating between recommended dosing of each.

Riverbend Dentistry - Short Term Dental Pain Management Instructions.png

Remember, dental care isn’t expensive. Neglect is. Now go reserve your next dental appointment!

happy teeth

No matter where you are on your journey to a healthy mouth, we’re happy to help: 573.635.6080


Check out these links for more information on OTC management of dental pain:

Non-prescription (OTC) oral analgesics for acute pain - an overview of Cochrane reviews

Best Drugs for Dental Pain

Benefits and harms associated with analgesic medications used in the management of acute dental pain

Dental Insurance Hacks - Dental Emergency Evaluation: Limited Exam and PA x-ray image:

Many policies will cover two exams per year, they do not care if they are emergency dental exams, new patient exams, or check-up exams. Some policies require six months between any two exams or it will be denied, others only care about the frequency limit for the policy year.

Often times a single x-ray image may be performed, this is usually applied to your deductible per your insurance policy.

If you’re self-pay and the doctor has time for a full mouth (“comprehensive”) exam, it is worth a little extra money for the comprehensive exam so you can get a list of all of your dental concerns and not have to re-pay the emergency exam fee each time you go in. A comprehensive exam is only good for so long, so be sure to schedule the care you need as soon as you can. (Don’t forget to check our our Dental Wellness Membership, where you get one free emergency exam and x-ray, plus discounts on other care!)

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