From the day we get our first baby tooth to the day our last adult molar comes through, our teeth play a critical role in our ability to be able to chew correctly, keep a steady jaw, smile big, communicate, and many other things. At all ages, teeth are essential for your overall health and well-being and keeping them strong and healthy is something that we all must do. But no matter how hard you try to take care of your children’s teeth or encourage and support them to do so, toothache in children is still very common and they will still experience some debilitating pain at one point or another.

The good news is that most minor toothaches in children don’t last too long and will go away within 24 hours. If your child’s pain doesn’t go away in a day, then immediately make an appointment to see a professional dentist as there could be a more severe problem.

But for those first 24 hours, here are some tips on how to make your child’s toothache go away.

1. Attempt to diagnose the cause of a toothache in children

For all ages, the cause of a toothache can be a variety of things. Many times, it could be due to a cavity or a broken tooth. Alternatively, it could be something far less severe like a piece of food that stuck somewhere in the teeth or gums.

Here are some leading causes of toothache in children:

a. Stuck food

The least severe of the causes, it is common for solid foods to become stuck in between two teeth or your child’s gum. If this is the case, thorough flossing can solve this problem (see more below).

b. Gum disease

When gums are red and tender, they may be irritated (also known as gingivitis). This can be incredibly painful for children and adults alike but can be cured with proper daily brushing and flossing and with help from a dental professional.

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c. Tooth decay

If your child is in pain for more than 24 hours, this is probably the reason. Have a look in their mouth and see if you can see a yellow-brown area in the enamel of the hurting tooth.

d. Cracked enamel

Perhaps your child bit too hard on an object and cracked his enamel. If this is the case, while the tooth may appear healthy (as the fracture line may be below the gum line), it will feel more sensitive than usual to hot and cold liquids.

e. Dental abscess

The most painful cause is undoubtedly dental abscess. This occurs when a pus pocket forms within the root of your child’s tooth. If the pain your child is experiencing can be described as “severe and throbbing” and tapping on the tooth increases the pain, then it probably is a dental abscess. A dental abscess needs to be treated right away.

The age of your child can also give you some clues to what the issue is, as they may be teething. Consider this, before moving forward in treating the tooth.

2. Check if your child is teething

If your child is a toddler, there is a good chance that his toothache could be due to teething or teeth eruption. Teething occurs first when your child is a baby and then in childhood. It will also happen again during their teenage years when their “adult” teeth arrive.

At approximately six months old, teething will begin, when the baby teeth start developing through the gums. Once they have erupted, you will be able to see them above your child’s gum line. By the time your child is three years old, they should have all of their baby teeth. After this, the baby teeth will begin to fall out and the next set of teeth will develop.

Symptoms of teething include:

  • irritation inside the mouth
  • tender, sore, or swollen gums
  • red cheeks
  • elevated saliva production in the mouth
  • frequently biting on objects or fingers
  • lack of appetite or trouble eating and/or chewing
  • agitation or crankiness
  • irregular sleep patterns

Note: Fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea aren’t usual symptoms of teething. Therefore, if your child has a continuous fever, gets worse, or seems sick, call the doctor immediately.

3. If your child is teething

  • Give your child a clean cloth, soaked in cold water that has been chilled in the fridge to suck and chew on. (Also: soaking the cloth in chamomile tea has been known to calm babies and help them to sleep)
  • If your child is eating solids, give a chilled (not frozen) fruit in a mesh bag designed explicitly for this purpose
  • Gently massage the gum where the pain is occurring with a clean finger
  • Buy a teether and refrigerate it (don’t put it in the freezer) before giving it to your child
  • There are also teething stars, blankets, and other teething products on the market that can provide some level of pain relief
  • If teethers don’t work, give your child an iced pacifier
  • Hard, unsweetened teething crackers also provide relief
  • Use an anaesthetic cream (shouldn’t be used on children younger than two without guidance from a doctor)
  • Only on doctor’s recommendations, give an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen
  • Do not be aggressive when brushing and flossing your child’s teeth and gums
  • Do not extract the loose tooth prematurely or attempt to wiggle or move it

Steps to follow for a non-teething child with a toothache

4. First, floss

For children, the most common type of toothache is related to food stuck between their teeth. So, when your child first mentions a sore tooth, take a look inside their mouth and check for any signs of a chunk of food stuck in between their teeth. If this is the case, make sure to floss his teeth thoroughly before you move on to trying something else.

5. Rinse the area with a warm salt water solution

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), if your child is old enough to swish and spit, let him rinse the sore area with a warm saltwater solution. To do this, simply stir a teaspoon of table salt into a small cup of warm water. Rinsing with this solution should help decrease the oral inflammation that your child is experiencing.

6. If there is swelling, use a cold compress or cold pack

If your child’s toothache is accompanied by a swollen cheek, press a cold compress or cold pack to the outside of the cheek near the sore area. Alternatively, you can encase a malleable gel-style compress in a soft towel and lay it inside the mouth.

These two actions should aid in reducing the pressure and swelling inside your child’s mouth.

7. Administer medicine (if over two years old).

If necessary, you can also administer the appropriate medicine for your child’s age. But without a doctor’s guidance, avoid giving any medication to a child under two years old. For older children, an appropriate amount of Tylenol or Advil can help with the pain.

If a chewable pill is challenging for your child to take, you can always give him some liquid pain medication.

Never put a pill directly on your child’s tooth or gums as this can potentially create soft tissue damage that eventually develops into a more serious medical condition.

Another idea to provide toothache pain relief is to apply clove oil to a cotton swab and lightly tap it on the distressed area around the tooth. Clove oil works well as a topical analgesic and antibacterial.

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8. Know what is considered a dental emergency for children

If your child has any of these problems, then it is most certainly a dental emergency that needs to be dealt with by a professional as soon as possible:

  • broken, chipped, or cracked teeth
  • knocked out tooth
  • a foreign object stuck between the teeth
  • fillings or root canals
  • swollen or fractured jaw
  • soft tissue injuries
  • Trauma or injury to the face or the mouth

9. Contact the child’s dentist

If, after trying these steps, your child continues to have a toothache, then contact a pediatric dentist. Also, if your child is already having troubles swallowing or breathing, bring him to the emergency room immediately.

Your child’s dentist will be able to diagnose the cause of a toothache and provide treatment. If your child has a cavity, then treatment will require removing the decay and filling the tooth.

Prior to arriving at the dentist’s office, talk with your child about how the dentist is going to help him feel better by treating the pain. Especially if this is your child’s first or second trip to the dentist, the experience can be quite scary and anxiety-inducing for them.

By giving your child an idea of what the appointment will be like and what tools will be used, you can help him feel more relaxed and calmer about the whole ordeal.

Whatever you do, do not ignore your child’s complaints about oral pain! It is always better to bring your child to a professional provider of family or general dental services as soon as possible. Let a dentist check your child’s oral health immediately so that a more effective treatment plan can be prescribed and alleviate your little one’s sufferings.