Toothaches can be painful and distracting, especially for our children. And the pain caused by a toothache can show up in different ways, which can be confusing for our kids (and for parents, too!)
Some ways toothaches can show up are:
- A throbbing sensation near the tooth
- Sensitivity when the tooth is touched
- Sensitivity in the tooth to hot or cold food and drink
- A bad mood
As a parent, it can be stressful for you to figure out how to help when your child has a toothache. It’s never fun to see your child in pain — not to mention the last thing any family needs is unexpected dental expenses.
Luckily, toothaches can be an inexpensive fix, especially if you address the cause early and prioritize preventive care, too.
We’ve put together this guide to 5 common causes of a toothache to help you figure out the source of your child’s toothache, ways to help treat it, and how to prevent it from happening again.
Common Cause 1: Tooth Decay
Like gingivitis, tooth decay is caused by a build-up of plaque. The plaque releases acids that are harmful to the tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities.
Along with making sure your child has an effective dental hygiene routine, their diet can play a big role in tooth decay.
Diets high in sugar and carbs can cause tooth decay. These include candy, cereal and bread products.
Stopping tooth decay in its tracks is extremely important, as letting it grow can lead to more expensive dental procedures, time out of school, and serious pain.
You’ll know if your child is experiencing tooth decay if you see white or brown spots on a tooth, although some decay isn’t visible and takes special tools. Another important reason to schedule a dental check-up for your child twice a year.
Treatment for tooth decay depends on your child’s age, symptoms and health. Children should start seeing a dentist within 6 months of their first tooth emerging. The best way for you to find and stop tooth decay is to take your child in for a dental checkup and cleaning twice a year.
Your dentist will likely provide cleanings and fillings to help stop the tooth decay and set your child up for a life with healthy, clean teeth.
Try to cut sugars and carbs from your child’s diet whenever possible. That means avoiding snacks like cereal.
Along with avoiding sugar, brushing the teeth twice a day, for at least two minutes a day, along with a daily flossing routine will help keep cavities in children away.
Common Cause 2: A Crack or Fracture
A tiny crack or fracture in your child’s tooth can cause a painful toothache. Cracks in the teeth can have various causes, including everything from impact on the tooth through falling or other accidents to the weakening of a tooth due to poor dental hygiene.
Symptoms caused by a cracked tooth include:
- Swollen gums surrounding the tooth
- Pain while eating
- Temperature sensitivity
- Sensitivity to sweetness
Like grinding their teeth, a small fracture in your child’s tooth can cause much bigger issues down the line like a fever or swollen glands in the neck. That’s why you should take your child to see a dentist right away for an evaluation and treatment.
Your dentist may provide a tooth filling or any other necessary treatments to fix the crack or fracture.
In addition to a consistent dental hygiene routine, you can help children prevent tooth fractures by encouraging other healthy habits such as:
- Never running or walking with an object in their mouth
- Always wear a mouth guard during contact sports
- Discouraging chewing and sucking on sharp or hard objects like toys or hard candies
Common Cause 3: Teeth Grinding
Chronic teeth grinding, also called bruxism, can oftentimes cause unexpected damage to teeth leading to toothaches in children.
Many people who grind their teeth don’t realize it, as it often happens while they’re sleeping.
For children, bruxism can be the result of anything from misaligned teeth to teething pain or even an earache. Even dehydration can cause teeth grinding due to a lack of lubrication in the joints.
If you hear grinding noises as your child sleeps, or if they complain about a toothache in the morning or after eating, they might be experiencing the result of bruxism.
Bruxism affects 2-3 of every 10 children, and many outgrow it. Quality kids dental care is the key to dealing with bruxism, as they can provide tools the store can’t such as a custom-fitted mouth guard.
While adults may be more prone to tooth grinding due to stress or anxiety, this can also cause children to grind their teeth. Check-in with your children to see if there may be outside issues causing them stress and anxiety.
There are a few additional ways to prevent bruxism in your child besides reducing stress. These include:
- Drink more water — dehydration causes bruxism, as well as headaches and allergy symptom flare-ups.
- A mouth guard or taste capsule that releases a bitter taste when teeth are grinded.
- Regular dental check-ups — checking in with a dentist twice a year can help detect and prevent all the symptoms that cause teeth grinding.
Common Cause 4: A Sinus Infection
The sinus cavities affect many parts of your child’s body, including their teeth.
Symptoms of a sinus infection can include a headache, throat irritation, congestion, and yes, toothaches. When your child’s sinuses are infected, they can compress the nerves in the mouth and jaw, making it feel like a toothache.
If you suspect your child’s teeth and jaw may hurt due to a sinus infection, you’ll want to treat the infection itself. At home, you can do this with over the counter medicines like nasal spray or a child size dose of ibuprofen.
You’ll also want to have a humidifier running to help lubricate the air passageways and battle swelling.
If they have cold or sinus problems for over 10 days, take them to a doctor as they may need antibiotics.
Sinus infections that cause toothaches can be prevented in a few different ways:
- Avoid exposing your children to smoke
- Ask a doctor to check for allergies that you can treat at home
- Make sure your child wakes their hands regularly
- Stay up-to-date with immunizations, as flu shots and pneumonia vaccinations can help prevent viruses that cause sinus infections.
Common Cause 5: Gingivitis
Gingivitis is a gum disease caused by plaque buildup on the teeth.
Plaque is a bacteria-filled build-up on teeth created from the mixture of saliva and food particles left behind from eating.
The buildup of plaque can cause gum swelling and irritation. While it can seem mild at first, it’s very important to address or it can result in tooth loss caused by an infection of the gums called periodontal disease.
While the baby teeth will be lost eventually, a healthy mouth is still extremely important for babies and young children. Keeping their teeth and gums healthy can help children eat properly, speak clearly, and avoid infection.
Symptoms include bad breath and red, swollen gums that can bleed at times.
Gingivitis can be treated with an improvement in dental hygiene, especially plaque-fighting techniques like flossing, brushing, and a healthier diet.
You can help your child get rid of the gum discomfort caused by gingivitis by ensuring they are flossing once a day and brushing twice a day for 2 minutes each time.
Another way to up their flossing routine is by trying a Water Pik. Water Piks use pressurized water to clean teeth and gum crevices and can be a bit more fun for your children than regular floss.
Regular cleanings at the dentist can both prevent and reverse the effects of gingivitis.
Children should get a dental cleaning about twice a year once they sprout their first tooth.
You’ll also want to check your child’s gums about once a week for any redness, swelling, or other gum irritation.
If you notice gum irritation in your child’s mouth, you’ll first want to make sure they’ve been following your dental hygiene routine. If so, it may be time for a dental cleaning.
Preventing Toothaches with Regular Care
When addressing your child’s toothache, the first thing you’ll want to address is their daily oral health routine.
From infancy on, your child should have an oral hygiene routine to prevent future health problems.
Not sure how to brush baby teeth? During infancy, clean your baby’s gums with a soft, wet cloth. Once their teeth develop at around 6 months old you can upgrade to gentle brushing with a soft bristle brush.
Once they reach the age of 3 until the age of 6, you can use a pea size amount of toothpaste on their toothbrush. Around the age of 5 or 6, or when your child has enough teeth that they touch each other, you can incorporate a flossing routine. The best bet is to see a dentist to help with a reliable flossing routine and the amount needed.
Many of the issues which can cause a toothache can easily be prevented or treated.
With an effective dental hygiene routine and regular visits to an experienced kids’ dentist, toothaches should be a thing of the past for your child.
But sometimes a toothache doesn’t fall within the typical symptoms, or you might have more questions about treatment and prevention. If so, we’re here for you anytime!