If you or your family like to indulge over the Christmas period, gaining weight isn't the only consequence you should be aware of. Sweet snacks, festive drinks and other holiday hazards can all take their toll on your teeth, and a toothache is often the first sign that something's wrong.
If your toothache is a symptom of an underlying oral health problem, it's likely to get worse without treatment. Seeing a dentist and improving your oral hygiene can help to relieve and prevent tooth pain so it doesn't have to spoil your holidays.
Types of toothache
The type of tooth pain you have can sometimes be an indication of how serious it is. Toothaches can range in intensity from mild to agonising, start suddenly or get more noticeable over time, and the pain may be constant, intermittent or only hurt when you eat.
If a toothache is a symptom of a larger problem, it may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- pain in other areas, usually the jaw, ears or head
- increased sensitivity to heat and cold
- swelling of the gum or face around the tooth
- sore, red or bleeding gums
- fever or headache
- bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
You should see a dentist as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms, if your toothache lasts longer than a couple of days, or if you're in severe discomfort.
See a doctor if you have a fever or discharge from your mouth, as this might indicate an infection, which could spread if it's not treated promptly.
What causes toothaches at Christmas?
Toothaches aren't unique to Christmas, but this is the worst time of year for dental problems generally. This is when people of all ages are more likely to consume sugary snacks and acidic drinks that can wear down teeth, and with so much to take care of, some people let their oral hygiene routine slide.
Unfortunately, it's also the time of year when dentists limit their opening hours, so it's important to know what the season's dental dangers are so you can try to avoid inconvenient toothaches and having to wait for treatment.
Sugar in food and drink that sticks to your teeth is fed on by bacteria, which multiply and form a sticky layer called plaque. As they consume the sugar, these bacteria produce acids that break down tooth enamel over time, forming cavities.
You don't have to give up all your favourite treats to avoid tooth decay, but it's a good idea to limit the amount of sugar you consume. You can also reduce contact of your teeth with sugar by:
- sipping water alongside snacks or sugary drinks to rinse away sugar
- avoiding sticky foods such as lollies and dried fruits that can stay on the teeth
- drinking sugary drinks through a straw
- not holding liquids in your mouth before swallowing
It's also important to keep up with your oral hygiene routine – brushing twice a day, flossing daily and eating a balanced diet alongside the holiday treats.
It's not only sugar you should be cautious of, but also food and drink containing acids. White wine, soft drinks, fruit juices and vinegar can all erode tooth enamel over time, without needing help from bacteria.
As tooth enamel wears down, this exposes the softer dentine layer beneath, which is more sensitive to temperature and more vulnerable to decay and injuries.
Candy canes, nuts and coins hidden inside Christmas puddings are just some of the traditions that cause many teeth to chip and crack every year, and may need the attention of an emergency dentist.
Ripping plastic or sticky tape with your teeth when wrapping or opening presents should also be avoided, as this can cause toothaches or damage or weaken teeth.
Loose or broken dental restorations
If any of your teeth have had fillings, crowns, veneers or other dental work done in the past, these can be more vulnerable to damage than tooth enamel, especially if they were fitted many years ago.
Loose, damaged or missing fillings can expose the sensitive layers of the tooth beneath, causing pain and sensitivity and leaving the tooth open to infection, so these should be replaced by a dentist as soon as possible.
Tooth infection or inflammation
If tooth decay, cracks or other damage reaches the soft pulp in the centre of your tooth, where the nerve and blood vessels are, this can cause severe pain and sensitivity.
A tooth pulp infection or inflammation needs the urgent attention of a dentist, who may be able to save the tooth with a root canal procedure. If treatment is delayed, the only option might be to extract and replace the tooth.
If plaque reaches the gum line, this can cause the gums to pull back from the teeth, exposing the roots which are more sensitive and easily damaged. The gum itself may also feel sore or sensitive, or bleed when you brush your teeth.
Gum disease can usually be treated in its early stage (gingivitis) by improving your oral hygiene and visiting the dental clinic for teeth cleaning and hygiene treatments. If treatment is delayed, gingivitis may develop into periodontitis, which can cause permanent damage to the gums, teeth and jaws.
Painful teeth may also be a symptom of other problems in and around the mouth, including mouth ulcers, sinus infections or a dental abscess.
Your dentist or doctor will recommend appropriate treatments to help clear the infection, which may include a course of antibiotics, other medication or deep cleaning of the gum tissue.
Strain or injuries to the jaws or the joints connecting the jaws can sometimes be felt as tooth pain when they pass down the nerve. If your jaw feels stiff, locks, or it hurts when you chew and open your mouth, there might be a problem with your temporomandibular joints (TMJ).
How do you treat a toothache?
Taking over-the-counter pain medication may provide temporary relief, but if a toothache is a symptom of a deeper problem, this will need to be treated by your dentist as soon as you're able to visit. Check your dentist's holiday opening hours or call an emergency dentist if you need urgent care.
This will first involve a thorough examination of your mouth, which may include x-rays. Your dentist will also need to know any relevant details from your medical history that could influence their assessment or treatment recommendations.
Treatment for toothache is related directly to the cause. Depending on what's causing your tooth to hurt, your dentist may recommend:
If your tooth has a cavity, your dentist can remove the decayed tissue and rebuild the tooth by placing a filling. White fillings are made from composite resin or glass-ionomer cement that's applied in layers, hardened, sculpted and polished for a natural feel and appearance.
More severe tooth damage may require placing a dental crown. These can be made from porcelain ceramic for a natural look, or porcelain fused to metal and all-metal crowns for extra strength. Crowns are also fitted over teeth after root canal treatment.
Root canal therapy
Root canal therapy or endodontics can treat an infection or inflammation of the tooth pulp and relieve severe tooth pain and sensitivity. Your dentist will remove the infected tissue, replace it with a filling and seal your tooth by placing a crown.
Regular teeth cleaning and scaling and fluoride application by a dental hygienist help to reduce plaque on your teeth. If you already have tooth decay or gum disease, a hygienist will remove as much bacteria as they can and recommend ways you can restore your oral health at home.
Tips to manage a toothache
Not all toothaches need professional care. If you're lucky, the pain will go away before too long so it won't spoil your holidays. To help you manage in the meantime:
- Ask your dentist or doctor about what pain relief medicine you should take, making sure you follow the instructions on the packaging
- Apply a cold compress or ice pack against your cheek close to the toothache to numb the pain
- Avoid hard, chewy or crunchy foods if these trigger your toothache
- Mix a teaspoon of salt in warm water and hold it in your mouth for 2 minutes before spitting it out
- Try propping up your head with pillows when you sleep
- Brush your teeth after every meal to help keep plaque at bay, switching to a softer toothbrush if your toothbrush causes irritation
- Consider visiting the dentist anyway if it's been longer than 6 months since your last check-up
Dentist Gold Coast
If you're worried about a toothache or it's time for your check-up and clean, call our friendly team at Robina Town Dental on 07 5575 9100 or send us a message and we'll get back to you. Our Gold Coast dentists are conveniently located in Robina Town Shopping Centre.
Healthdirect. Toothache and swelling [Online] 2019 [Accessed November 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/toothache-and-swelling