You have a toothache. What do you do?
- Take a painkiller.
- Put a cold compress on your cheek.
- Apply vanilla extract to the painful tooth and surrounding gums
- Apply clove oil around the painful area.
- See a dentist about it.
- Do nothing and hope the pain goes away.
While the first three options may offer some temporary relief from the pain, none of them cures the toothache. Even if you apply natural antimicrobials such as clove oil or garlic to prevent or eliminate any infection, you still may not get to the crux of the problem. For there are many reasons a tooth may hurt, beyond infection, such as decay, breakage, an improperly placed restoration and the force of clenching or grinding. (For more on reasons why your teeth might hurt, see Dr. Verigin’s article in Biosis 22.)
Thus, while you may do any number of things to cope with the pain, the wisest thing you can do is make an appointment to have a dentist examine the painful area. If the tooth is damaged or decayed, he or she can repair it. If a restoration is causing the trouble, the dentist can adjust it. If bruxism is the problem, he or she can provide a splint to absorb the pressure and, as needed, other therapy or treatment to help break the habit. And if infection is an issue, the dentist can provide antibiotics to eliminate it completely.
In other words, a dentist can identify and address the cause of the pain so you don’t have to keep struggling with or attempting to suppress it. And better to pay a couple hundred dollars now than letting the problem fester and paying thousands down the road for root canal therapy, complex restorations or other, more extensive dental work to repair the damage…or worse, in the case of infection, risking death, as a recent news item from the UK illustrates:
A dad-of-five died after ignoring his dentist’s advice to seek medical help for a tooth infection.
Ian Albert Durkin, of Lees New Road, Holts, would probably still be alive today had he heeded the warning.
An inquest into his death heard that Ian, who was 42, refused to go to hospital despite being in excruciating pain.
His partner of 11 years Adele Riley told the court: “He was crying out in pain but you couldn’t persuade him to go to the doctor or hospital. He tried to put up with it. He was stubborn like that.”
His distraught family are now urging others to learn from his fatal mistakes.
“The fact that he could still be alive today if it wasn’t for his stubbornness is heartbreaking,” said Adele. “If other people see this and take heed hopefully his death will not be in vain.”
The inquest, at Oldham Magistrates’ Court, heard that Ian, a team leader at Remploy, developed a toothache which led to a bad tooth falling out on March 24. He didn’t visit his dentist until three days later and was told he needed treatment. Over the next few days he developed a sore throat, several mouth ulcers and was feeling generally unwell. He also discovered a red spot on his hand.
By April 3 his condition had worsened and he returned to the dentist, who advised that he should go to hospital given the state of his swollen hand and mouth. But Ian returned to home and went to bed, turning to alcohol for comfort. Adele checked on him twice that afternoon before discovering him dead in bed at 10pm.
The post-mortem examination revealed the presence of the bacteria haemolytic streptococcus, which can cause infections of the skin, in the mouth and sore throats.
This story somewhat recalls the US case from a couple years ago, where a 12 year old boy died from an abscessed tooth after he was unable to get dental care due to economic hardship. Bacteria from the infection spread to his brain. Two surgeries, six weeks in the hospital and over a quarter of a million dollars spent could not save him where a hundred dollars for extraction and antibiotics could have.
Of course, not every untreated oral infection will progress in this way, and one of the reasons such occurrences jump out at us is due to their relative rarity. Still, they pound home an important point: Tooth pain is not just a nuisance. It’s serious business.
So if you have a tooth that’s hurting, contact a dentist. If you have dental insurance, it will likely cover at least part of the cost. If you don’t have insurance, there are other financing options you can pursue, from in-office payment plans to consumer credit plans (e.g., CareCredit) specifically designed to cover dental and medical costs.
If money is an issue, be up front about it. If you get public assistance of some kind but can’t find a dentist who will accept it, ask about other payment options. If you live near a city with a dental school, you can get low-cost services at their clinic.
For more information on finding a dental school clinic or other source of reduced-cost services, see the NIDCR’s website or contact your state dental association about available assistance programs where you live.
Just don’t do nothing.