How to Manage Your Cavity Pain

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Do you have pain from a cavity or tooth decay? It's time to see your dentist. But until your appointment, you've got to manage the pain.

Decay destroys your tooth's hard enamel and dentin, the layer under the enamel. That exposes the nerves and leads to sensitivity and toothaches.

This article offers quick dos and don'ts for easing cavity pain until you can get to the dentist.

Do
  • Make a dentist appointment right away

  • Brush with warm water

  • Try an OTC anti-inflammatory

  • Apply oil of cloves (eugenol)

  • Keep your mouth as clean as possible

  • Consider a temporary filling material

Don't
  • Put off treatment—the cavity could invade the nerves

  • Expose teeth to extreme heat or cold

  • Eat sugary or acidic foods

  • Put topical medication directly on tooth or gum tissue

  • Skip brushing and flossing

Call Your Dentist

Before you do anything else, make a dentist appointment for as soon as possible. 

If they can't see you right away, ask for advice on pain relief. Be sure to tell them what medications you take.

If the pain fades temporarily, don't cancel the appointment. The damage won't repair itself, so the pain is bound to return.

cavity pain treatment

Verywell / JR Bee

Watch What You Eat

Avoid foods and drinks that are very cold, very hot, sugary, or acidic.

When decay invades the dentin layer of teeth, it can cause pain in response to extreme temperatures. You may want to brush your teeth with warm, not cold, water.

Acidic and sugary foods can worsen tooth decay. Your teeth may not be sensitive to them like with heat and cold. But they contribute to decay and increase pain.

Acidic foods include:

  • Citrus and citrus juices, especially lemon
  • Tomatoes
  • Anything carbonated
  • Anything sour
  • Dried fruits
  • Flavored tea
  • Vinegar, including pickled foods

Recap

When you have a toothache, get a dentist appointment as soon as possible. Avoid food and drinks that are hot, cold, sugary, or acidic. They could worsen pain and tooth decay.

Pain Management

If your dentist says it's okay, take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication.

Anti-inflammatories generally work best for dental pain. Most toothaches are caused by inflammation of tissues or nerves.

OTC anti-inflammatories include:

If you need more pain relief, Tylenol (acetaminophen) may help. It's usually safe to combine Tylenol with anti-inflammatories. (If you have concerns, ask your dentist, primary care provider, or pharmacist.)

Never put topical pain relief medication directly on the tooth or gums. It can cause chemical burns.

Another option is oil of cloves (eugenol). It's used in various dental materials because of its germ-killing and pain-relieving properties.

You can find eugenol in most health food stores. To use it, soak a small piece of cotton. Blot the cotton on a piece of tissue to remove the excess.

Using clean tweezers, hold the cotton on the painful tooth for 10 seconds. Make sure you don't swallow any of the oil.

Recap

To manage tooth pain, take an OTC anti-inflammatory like Advil or Aleve. If you still have pain, Tylenol may help. Eugenol is also effective for relieving pain from cavities.

Take Care of the Area

Don't avoid brushing or flossing the painful area. Keeping your mouth clean can help. That's because clumps of bacteria produce acid and increase pain.

Try flossing between the painful teeth. Removing any food particles and plaque may help reduce pain.

Some pharmacies have OTC filling material that temporarily seals the cavity. If you can identify exactly where it is, this may help alleviate pain and protect the area.

Ask your dentist before you do this, though. Some of them believe sealing a painful or infected tooth may cause more pain. It may also worsen the infection by sealing in bacteria.

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7 Tips for Preventing Cavities

Summary

When you have tooth pain from a cavity or decay:

  • Get a dentist appointment right away.
  • Avoid hot, cold, sugary, or acidic food and drinks.
  • Take an OTC anti-inflammatory like Advil or Aleve.
  • Tylenol and eugenol may help as well.
  • Gently brush and floss to keep the area clean.
  • Ask your dentist if OTC filling material is a good idea.

A Word From Verywell

Other parts of your body can heal themselves, but teeth can't. Don't cancel or delay an appointment if your pain fades. The problem that caused the pain remains.

The longer you wait, the deeper the cavity will go and the more pain it may cause. You could end up needing a root canal or even a tooth extraction instead of a simple filling.

The best course of action is to see your dentist and get the problem fixed.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Dental Association: Mouth Healthy. Erosion: What you eat and drink can impact teeth.

  2. University of Minnesota Extension Service. Pickling basics.

  3. Renton T. Dental (odontogenic) painRev Pain. 2011;5(1):2-7. doi:10.1177/204946371100500102

  4. Kumarswamy A. Multimodal management of dental pain with focus on alternative medicine: A novel herbal dental gelContemp Clin Dent. 2016;7(2):131-139. doi:10.4103/0976-237X.183066

Additional Reading

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.