When your child says they have a toothache, should you see your dentist? In most cases, the answer is yes.
And for good reason: their “toothache” could be a sign of a serious condition like tooth decay or a localized area of infection called an abscess, which could adversely affect their long-term dental health. The best way to know for sure –and to know what treatment will be necessary—is through a dental exam.
So, how quickly should you make the appointment? You can usually wait until morning if the pain has persisted for a day or through the night—most toothaches don’t constitute an emergency. One exception, though, is if the child has accompanying fever or facial swelling: in those cases you should call your dentist immediately or, if unavailable, visit an emergency room.
In the meantime, you can do a little detective work to share with the dentist at the appointment. Ask your child exactly where in their mouth they feel the pain and if they remember when it started. Look at that part of the mouth—you may be able to see brown spots on the teeth or obvious cavities indicative of decay, or reddened, swollen gums caused by an abscess. Also ask them if they remember getting hit in the mouth, which may mean their pain is the result of trauma and not disease.
You can also look for one other possible cause: a piece of candy, popcorn or other hard object wedged between the teeth putting painful pressure on the gums. Try gently flossing the teeth to see if anything dislodges. If so, the pain may alleviate quickly if the wedged object was the cause.
Speaking of pain, you can try to ease it before the dental appointment with ibuprofen or acetaminophen in appropriate doses for the child’s age. A chilled cloth or ice pack (no direct ice on skin) applied to the outside of the jaw may also help.
Seeing the dentist for any tooth pain is always a good idea. By paying prompt attention to this particular “call for help” from the body could stop a painful situation from getting worse.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Child’s Toothache: Have a Dental Exam to Figure out the Real Cause.”