It usually starts out like a dull ache that just won’t go away. If it’s in the back of your mouth, somewhere around the molars, you find yourself subconsciously running your tongue around the tooth in order to put some pressure on it and make the pain go away. As time moves on, the dull ache increases in intensity and soon it feels as if your whole mouth is nothing more than a cave of pain. It hurts to chew and swallow and the thought of eating or drinking anything at all is as distant as the next galaxy. If it gets bad enough, you pray for the courage it takes to go to the tool box and reach for a pair of pliers to clamp down and rip out the offending fang and be done with it once and for all . You know that if sleep should come, it will be fractured by bouts of pain and your dreams will turn to nightmares. While you’re awake, you try and take your mind off the pain by either reading or watching some television but your attention span just won’t allow it.

It just keeps going back to the source of your agony and you’re left to suffer in silence until the next morning when you make that dreaded call to the dentist in the hopes of getting some much needed relief. If you’re lucky, they’ll get you in that day. If you’re not, well, there are some over the counter medications out there that offer what they call “temporary relief”.

We’ll look at some of those later but when it comes to toothaches, I think that’s the best use of the word “temporary” I’ve ever heard. The relief they offer is fleeting at best.

Just what is a toothache?

A general definition of a toothache can best be described as some pain around your teeth or, depending on the severity, it might radiate all the way down to your jaws. The most likely culprits are cavities, a cracked or chipped tooth, an exposed root or gum disease. In most instances, they start off pretty slowly but if left untreated will most likely graduate to excruciating. The pain you’re experiencing will also most likely be further intensified by exposure to hot and cold temperatures.

Look, Mom! No Cavities!

I think that comes from an old ad by the good folks who brought us Crest toothpaste. If memory serves me correct, it depicts a freckle faced kid with a beaming smile and a certificate from his dentist stating as such.

We should all be so lucky.

When it comes to toothaches, cavities are the most likely suspect for the origin of your pain. Basically they’re just holes in the two parts of your teeth known as the enamel and the dentine. Once the holes get deep enough, the pulp of the tooth becomes exposed. Within that pulp are blood vessels and nerve endings that don’t take kindly to seeing the light of day and let you know it in the only way they know how. They begin to hurt.

If they’re detected early enough, most cavities and the pain associated with them can be cured by a simple filling. If they run deeper, chances are you’re looking at an inlay or a crown. If however they run so deep that the root of your tooth has been infected, break out the nitrous oxide because you’re looking at a root canal or possibly a tooth extraction.

Gum Disease

Gum disease places second when it comes to the leading cause of toothaches. Stuff with weird sounding names like gingivitis and pyorrhea have worked their way into the soft tissue of your gums and have begun eating their way into the bones around your teeth. Over time, bacteria combines with other food stuffs and they form a plaque that left unchecked just keeps on growing. The best way to avoid gum disease is to brush and floss your teeth on a regular basis. If you’re one of those folks who make an annual trip to the dentist, chances are that they’ll also throw in a cleaning. Besides polishing your teeth, they might also dig under your gum line with that little thing with a hook on the end of it. What they’re scraping off and out is the plaque that’s formed since your last visit.

Yeah, I know. That sounds disgusting but it certainly adds credence to the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Just make it go away!

As I mentioned earlier, if you can’t get to the dentist there are some over the counter things such as Anbesol and other similar products that you swab over the affected area. Naturally they taste like shit and the relief they afford is only temporary but at least it’s something. Ibuprofen seems to last longer and might help you get some much needed sleep.

For you naturalists out there, rubbing oil of cloves might be the way to go.

For you really stubborn bastards, just using an ice pack might temporarily do the trick.

As for me, a combination of all three along with a shot or two of good Irish Whiskey is usually enough to get me through the night.

Tooth"ache` (?), n. Med.

Pain in a tooth or in the teeth; odontalgia.

Toothache grass Bot., a kind of grass (Ctenium Americanum) having a very pungent taste. -- Toothache tree. Bot. (a) The prickly ash. (b) A shrub of the genus Aralia (A. spinosa).


© Webster 1913.

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