On this page

Toothache: Common causes, symptoms and remedies

Toothache: Common causes, symptoms and remedies
On this page

What is toothache?

Toothache is pain that you feel inside your mouth around or in your teeth. This pain can be sharp or dull and aching. You usually feel this pain when the nerve inside your tooth is irritated, for example if you have a loose filling.

See your dentist as soon as possible if you have toothache. If you don't have a dentist you can use the NHS tool to find your nearest surgery or our pharmacy team will be happy to help with pain relief advice.

What causes toothache?

One of the main toothache causes is poor oral hygiene. Not looking after your teeth or regularly visiting the dentist can lead to problems, including:

  • Abscesses
  • Tooth decay
  • Cracked or damaged teeth
  • A loose or broken filling
  • An infection, this can happen when a tooth has broken through the skin
  • Issues with your braces

Make sure the whole family is brushing their teeth twice a day and visiting their dentist for regular check-ups. So, any issues are found early before they cause you pain.

What are the symptoms of a toothache?

The first sign that something is wrong with your tooth is pain. The type of pain you experience can differ, from sharp or throbbing pain, for some this may only occur when you bite down with your teeth or it could be more constant.

You may also notice that the gum around your tooth is swollen, red or sore. If your tooth is infected then you could be experiencing a bad taste in your mouth, as well as a fever or headache.

What is the best painkiller for toothache?

There are a variety of treatments and medications that you can use for toothache. From natural drug-free remedies to medication that you can buy over the counter in your local pharmacy or supermarket.

How to get rid of toothache


Ibuprofen and paracetamol offer toothache relief, helping to calm symptoms and reduce pain. These medicines work to relieve mild to moderate pain. Ibuprofen also eases inflammation and swelling.

Pain relieving gel or pastes

Gels such as Orajel can be bought over the counter at your local pharmacy. They help to numb the affected area, relieving the symptoms and pain caused by toothache while you wait to see your dentist.

Clove oil 

A natural and drug-free alternative, clove oil contains eugenol a natural anaesthetic. The spice helps to relieve the pain, swelling and soreness caused by toothache. Apply a couple of drops of clove oil to a cotton bud and place on the affected area.

At-home toothache remedies

There are pain relief remedies that you can try at home when you first notice that you have toothache, or if you’re waiting to see a dentist.

These remedies combined with medication can help to ease symptoms:

Saltwater – helps to clean the area. Simply combine a cup of boiled water with a teaspoon of salt. Once the water is cool enough rinse the water solution around your mouth for at least 30 seconds.

Make sure that you don’t swallow any of the salt water. This remedy isn’t suitable for children.

Cold compress – If your face is swollen or you have sore gums use a cold compress or ice wrapped in a tea towel. You can hold this against your face to help bring swelling down.

Please bear in mind that if your toothache is caused by an exposed nerve, your tooth will be extra sensitive. A cold compress might make the pain worse.

When should I see a dentist?

Although you can buy medication and use home remedies to treat toothache. There are some situations where you should book an appointment with a dentist.

For example, if:

  • The toothache lasts for two days or more
  • The pain does not go away or decrease when you take painkillers
  • You have a high temperature
  • You have pain when you bite, your gums are red or you have a bad taste in your mouth
  • Your jaw or cheek are swollen

How to prevent toothache

If you have had toothache before you know how painful it is, and you probably won’t want to experience it again. The best thing for toothache is to look after your teeth.

There are things that you can do lower your risk of getting painful teeth in the future:

  • Reduce the amount of sweet things you eat and drink, and only have them at meal times
  • Drink fewer fizzy drinks
  • Brush your teeth twice a day
  • Use dental floss to clean between your teeth - you can also try a mouthwash
  • Don't smoke - ask our pharmacy team about our Stop Smoking Service
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year

Toothache frequently asked questions

  • Can you cure toothache?

    Yes, toothache is curable. How your pain is treated depends on what is causing your toothache. It may be as simple as you need to take better care of your teeth, or you may need a filling replacing. Your dentist will be able to advise you and help get to the root of the problem.

  • Have I got sensitive teeth? 

    You may feel pain when eating something sweet, cold or very hot. If your tooth pain only happens when you eat sweet, hot or cold food, you may have sensitive teeth. So, try brushing your teeth two or three times a day with toothpaste designed specifically for sensitive teeth.

  • How can I stop toothache?

    Practicing good oral hygiene will help to look after your teeth and prevent any issues that could cause toothache. 

    You should:

    • Brush your teeth twice a day
    • Floss to help remove food debris from between your teeth
    • Have regular dentist check-ups will also help prevent toothache and makes it easier to treat any problems
  • Should I see a doctor or a dentist if I have a toothache?

    If you are experiencing toothache and the pain has lasted for more than two days, you should book an appointment to see a dentist. If you see your GP about toothache they will probably refer you to a dentist. 

  • Do I need a prescription for toothache pain relief?

    Typically, no, however this will depend on the severity of the pain you’re experiencing. If you have mild to moderate pain, you’ll be able to find pain relief medication in your local pharmacy and online which can help ease toothache before you can visit a dentist.

    Did you know that if you have a repeat NHS prescription you can get your medication delivered to your door for free with LloydsDirect by LloydsPharmacy? With simple in-app ordering and reminders to re-order, our prescription delivery service couldn’t be easier.

Overcoming dental phobia

While none of us enjoy visiting the dentist, most of us won’t dread it. Yet anxiety about visiting the dentist is becoming increasingly common according to experts at King’s College London.

Writing in the British Dental Journal, the experts claim that those who have a severe fear of the dentist are more likely to have tooth decay or missing teeth.

The study compared the oral health of people with and without dental phobia, and also found those with dental phobia said their quality of life was poor.

“This phobia can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life, including on their physiological, psychological, social and emotional well-being,” says the study’s lead author Dr Ellie Heidari from the King’s College London Dental Institute.

According to the Oral Health Foundation, the most common fears for visiting the dentist are having a tooth drilled and having a local anaesthetic injection. But nobody is born with a dental phobia. You develop it – and most importantly, you can overcome it.

Here are the charity’s five tips to combat a dental phobia:

  1. Talk to someone and even see the practice before your appointment. Taking a friend and listening to music might help to relax any tension you have.

  2. Make sure your dentist knows you are a nervous patient, including what you most dislike about treatment (eg. injections, drilling etc.).

  3. Book an appointment at a time of day you feel most comfortable with. For instance, some people may be less nervous seeing their dentist in the morning, while others may feel more at ease later in the day.

  4. Before treatment begins, agree a signal with your dentist that means ‘stop’ in case you need a break.

  5. Contact one of the dental phobia support networks such as Dental Phobia.