Conditions,  Health,  Pain,  Q&A

Why Painkillers Aren’t Working for My Toothache?

This article is a part of our Q&A series in which we give detailed answers to our readers' questions. Have a question? Don't hesitate and send it to us to get a detailed answer!

Toothaches can be highly unpleasant and sometimes debilitating. People often turn to painkillers as the first line of defense against toothache. However, there are instances when painkillers seem to have little to no effect. We explain why painkillers might not work for a toothache and explores alternative measures and solutions.

Understanding Toothaches

Before delving into why painkillers might not be effective, it’s important to understand what causes toothaches.
Toothaches can be attributed to various factors, including:

  • Tooth Decay: Cavities or dental caries can lead to toothaches
  • Gum Disease: An infection of the gums can cause pain
  • Tooth Abscess: An infection at the root of a tooth or between the gums
  • Impacted Tooth: A tooth that has failed to emerge fully into its expected position
  • Tooth Fracture: A crack or break in the tooth
  • Sensitive Teeth: Sometimes cold or hot foods and drinks can cause toothaches
  • Bruxism: Grinding or clenching the teeth can cause pain

Why Painkillers May Not Work

  • Different Types of Pain: Pain can be of different types and intensities, and not all painkillers are effective for all kinds of pain. Dental pain can sometimes be due to inflammation, in which case nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be more effective. However, if the pain is caused by an infection, then antibiotics may be required.
  • Incorrect Painkiller Dosage: Taking too small a dose of painkillers can lead to ineffective pain relief. It’s essential to follow the dosage instructions on the label or those provided by your healthcare provider.
  • Drug Tolerance: Some individuals might develop a tolerance to certain medications if used frequently, meaning the standard dose becomes less effective.
  • Severe Underlying Condition: In cases where the underlying cause of the toothache is severe, over-the-counter painkillers may not be strong enough to alleviate the pain.

What to Do When Painkillers Aren’t Working

  • Consult a Dentist: If you are experiencing severe toothache and over-the-counter painkillers are not providing relief, it’s imperative to consult a dentist. Your dentist can diagnose the underlying cause of your toothache and prescribe appropriate medications or treatments.
  • Prescription Medications: Sometimes, stronger prescription painkillers or antibiotics are needed to deal with the pain. Your dentist can prescribe these if deemed necessary.
  • Dental Procedures: Depending on the cause of your toothache, various dental procedures might be recommended:
    • Fillings or Crowns: For tooth decay or cavities
    • Root Canals: For an infection in the tooth’s pulp
    • Extraction: In severe cases where the tooth cannot be saved
    • Periodontal Therapy: For gum diseases

Alternative Pain Relief Methods

  • Cold Compress: Applying a cold pack to the outside of the cheek can reduce inflammation and numb the area
  • Saltwater Rinse: Gargling with warm salt water can help to reduce pain
  • Topical Numbing Gels: These can be applied directly to the area for temporary relief

Bottom Line

When dealing with a toothache, it can be extremely frustrating and concerning if painkillers are not working. This situation underscores the importance of understanding the underlying cause of the toothache and seeking the appropriate treatment. Over-the-counter painkillers are often not a one-size-fits-all solution, especially for dental pain, which can have various causes. Consulting a dentist for a proper diagnosis and tailored treatment plan is the most effective course of action in such cases.

This Q&A series article is complete and was published on July 16, 2023, and last updated on July 16, 2023.

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