How to Relieve Pain From a Cracked or Broken Tooth

Toothache Treatments Until You Can Get to the Dentist

Woman suffering from a toothache
Getty Images/Eric Audras

A broken or cracked tooth may cause a very painful toothache, especially if the inner pulp of the tooth is exposed. That’s where the tooth’s blood vessels, nerve, and connective tissues are, and if that area becomes inflamed or infected, the pain can be excruciating. 

There are ways to get relief from a toothache caused by a cracked or broken tooth, but they're not permanent solutions.

For any damaged tooth, you’ll eventually need to see a dentist, particularly if the nerve is exposed.

Dental Pulp and Root Canal

A cracked or broken tooth that is causing a toothache is likely to need treatment of the dental pulp to permanently treat the pain. The pulp extends from the crown of the tooth to the tip of the roots where it connects to the tissues surrounding the root. Although the pulp is important during a tooth's growth and development, once it is fully mature the tooth can survive without the pulp.

Treatment of dental pulp (nerve) injuries is called root canal or endodontic treatment. But the type of treatment for a damaged tooth depends on what type of tooth (baby or adult) and its stage of development. 

Common Causes of a Cracked or Broken Tooth

There are several potential causes of a cracked or broken tooth. Some of these common causes include: 

  • Chewing and biting into hard food
  • Biting on hard objects, such as a pen cap or pencil
  • Brittle tooth structure caused by root canal therapy
  • Old restorations that have begun to separate from the tooth's structure
  • Clenching or grinding of the teeth
  • Trauma to the face and mouth

What to Do After a Tooth is Cracked or Broken 

Gently bite down on a fresh piece of gauze, and avoid eating or drinking cold foods and beverages until the tooth has been repaired by your dentist (which should be as soon as you can get an appointment).

If only part of the tooth has broken off, you may wish to collect the broken piece and take it with you when you see the dentist. Even though she will not be able to use the broken piece of tooth to restore it, she may want to see if the piece that broke was enamel or part of a filling.

When a tooth cracks and the entire tooth remains in the mouth, avoid eating or biting down on the tooth. A cracked tooth may or may not involve the root, so every effort to avoid contact with the tooth should be made in order to prevent the tooth from cracking further and potentially causing a root fracture.

See your dentist as soon as possible in order to prevent further damage from occurring to the tooth and gum tissues.

What to Do if You Can’t Get to the Dentist

If you have a broken or cracked tooth and you are unable to see your dentist immediately, there are some ways for you to relieve the pain. Note that these are temporary measures because only a dentist or orthodontist can repair a damaged dental nerve.

Avoid the following:

  • Foods and beverages that are very cold or very hot. Since the dentin layer of the tooth has likely been exposed by the crack or break in the tooth, extremes in temperature may cause pain

  • Foods and beverages that are very high in sugar or are very acidic, as they may irritate the nerve in the tooth

How to Temporarily Treat Toothache Pain

Here are the basic options for temporarily treating a toothache to use before you can get to your dentist.

  • Use an over-the-counter pain relief medications like Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen). Be sure these are safe to use with any other medications you may be taking. And you’ll probably want to avoid aspirin, which can slow blood clotting and cause problems if and when you need a root canal (it’s a bit of a bloody procedure). 
  • Floss between the teeth that are cracked or broken. Removing the food particles and plaque may help reduce the pain from a toothache. Be careful not to poke too deeply into the affected tooth.
  • Use oil of cloves (eugenol), which can be found in most health food stores; it is used in various dental materials because of its anesthetic properties. Soak a small piece of cotton in the oil, then blot the cotton on a piece of tissue to remove the excess. Hold the cotton on the painful tooth for 10 seconds, making sure you do not swallow any of the oil.
  • Try an over-the-counter dental anesthetic like Orajel (benzocaine) or Anbesol (lidocaine), which you can find at most pharmacies. Or you can seal the affected tooth with an over-the-counter temporary filling material (Dentemp).
  • Sleep with your head elevated. The inflammation of the nerve of the tooth with a crack or break is very painful and is often what causes the most uncomfortable pain. If you elevate your head when resting, some of the pressure in the area of the toothache may diminish.
  • Rinse with warm salt water two to three times a day which may help to relieve a toothache caused by a crack or break. Salt water works as an antiseptic to remove bacteria from the infected area.

A Word From Verywell

A toothache that is caused by a crack or break in the tooth may come and go, but don't be fooled. The longer you wait to have the tooth restored, the more serious complications may arise. See your dentist as soon as you can after you develop a toothache. Otherwise, your pain will only increase.

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