The most common complaint that brings people to their dentist is a toothache. While you might normally call right away to schedule an appointment for a toothache, you might be reconsidering now, especially since most dentists are closed for all but emergencies, which might include reconstructive dentistry for your toothache.
So how can you tell if your toothache is an emergency? Here are some guidelines to look for.
Doesn’t Respond to OTC Medications
If you have a toothache, you can take over-the-counter medications to try to control it. If you are considering what type of medication to take, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and naproxen are slightly better than other types, because many toothaches are caused by swelling of the pulp inside the tooth, where there’s no room for it to expand, which increases pressure on the nerve. NSAIDs can reduce the swelling and be more effective against the pain.
However, if you take the recommended dose of OTC medications and your toothache persists, it might be an emergency.
Interferes with Daily Activities
Another key measure for whether a toothache is an emergency is how much it interferes with your daily activities. If your toothache is only a partial distraction from your daily routine, you can forget it most of the time, or it only occurs once in a while, it’s probably not an emergency and can wait until we are open for routine care.
However, if your toothache is constant, recurs regularly, and makes it difficult to function normally, you should consider it an emergency and seek care.
For many people, a good indicator is sleep. If your toothache makes it hard to sleep or if it wakes you up from a deep sleep, it’s an emergency and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.
Includes Symptoms of Infection
Another indicator that your toothache is an emergency is if it’s accompanied by symptoms of infection. An infected tooth is a potentially deadly condition, and it needs to be dealt with immediately.
Some of the symptoms of infection include:
- Tooth turns dark
- Discharge from tooth
- Foul smell or taste from tooth
- Pimple-like sore on the gums
- Localized warmth
If you have these symptoms along with your toothache, you should seek treatment. In fact, if you have these symptoms even without a toothache, it’s important to get care, typically root canal therapy, though in some cases, we might recommend extraction and replacement with a dental implant.
Note about fever: Fever is a common symptom of COVID-19. If you have fever along with a cough, difficulty breathing, or other symptoms of respiratory infection, then you should talk to a doctor.