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Toothache refers to pain in and around the teeth and jaws that's usually caused by tooth decay.

Toothache can come and go or be constant. Eating or drinking can make the pain worse, particularly if the food or drink is hot or cold.

The pain can be mild or severe. It may feel "sharp" and start suddenly. It can be worse at night, particularly when you're lying down. It can be difficult to decide whether the pain is in your upper or lower teeth. When a lower molar tooth is affected, the pain can often feel like it's coming from the ear.

Toothache in other upper teeth may feel like it's coming from the sinuses (the small, air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead).

The area of your jaw close to the infected tooth may also be sore and tender to touch. It's also possible for periodontal disease to give rise to a "dull" pain. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection that affects the soft and hard structures that support the teeth.

How to manage toothache

If you have toothache, call your dental practice for advice. Due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, dental services are still limited and many routine treatments such as fillings and root canal treatment are not yet available. Some emergency procedures can be carried out in general dental practices but you may need to be referred to an Urgent Dental Centre for this. Your dental practice will arrange for this if necessary.

In the meantime, follow the measures outlined below, which may provide some relief from toothache:

  • Avoid things that bring on the pain or make it worse such as hot or cold food and drink,  cold air or sweet food and drink
  • For teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold, see also advice for ‘sensitive teeth’
  • Use painkillers that have successfully provided pain relief for you in the past without adverse effects such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. For dosage advice please see the painkiller package.
  • Pain from the mouth or teeth sometimes feels worse when lying flat. Try lying propped up as this might ease the pain.
  • If you have tooth decay, reducing sugar intake will help to stop it getting worse.
  • Holding cooled water or crushed ice around the tooth can help some types of dental pain.
  • Keep your mouth clean using a toothbrush and toothpaste at least twice a day
  • Remember that antibiotics don’t cure toothache

If you do not have a regular dentist you need to call the appropriate dental helpline number for your Local Health Board area:

If you believe or know you have COVID-19 and have a dental emergency, please phone NHS Direct Wales or 111.


Dental practices have to comply with social distancing measures and staff may wear additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Please do not attend without having made an appointment first.


Find a dentist near you.

What causes toothache?

True toothache occurs when the innermost layer of the tooth (dental pulp) becomes inflamed. The pulp is made up of sensitive nerves and blood vessels.

Dental pulp can become inflamed as a result of tooth decay, a cracked or broken tooth, a lost filling or receding gums.

There are conditions that cause pain similar to toothache, even though the pulp isn't affected. These causes of pain next to teeth include sore or swollen gums around a tooth that's breaking through (e.g. wisdom teeth), ulcers on your gums, sinusitis, periodontal abscess and pain in the joint connecting the jaw to the skull (temporomandibular joint).



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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 01/07/2020 16:00:44