The pain that accompanies a toothache is troubling no matter when it strikes, but it can be especially rough when you’re trying to nod off and sleep. When we’re resting, our senses become more aware, which means we more acutely feel pain. The more severe the pain, the more distressing it feels, making sleep that much harder to achieve.
So the question is: how can you fall asleep while experiencing a toothache? There is a wide array of methods focusing on posture, simple remedies, and over-the-counter medications that can bring relief and help you get to sleep without issue. But ultimately, you should only pursue any of these in conjunction with professional medical treatment from your dentist.
Of course, when a toothache is flaring up in the middle of the night, you won’t be able to drop by the neighborhood office and get checked out. That’s where these methods come in. Rather than looking at the treatments outlined below as de facto cures, consider them temporary relief until you get proper medical attention.
This article will be divided into two main sections. First, we’re going to outline some of the most common causes of toothaches. Once those are established, we’ll be diving deep into the most effective ways to find temporary relief from the pain so you can get that much-needed shut-eye.
What Causes Toothaches?
The answer to this question may seem obvious at first, but it’s important to know all the different factors that can be at play. Not only will understanding them help to prevent problems in the future, but you may learn more about your bodily habits as a result. The list covers the most commonly found causes.
Again, this one may seem obvious at first blush, but our pain awareness can be so focused on the initial point of injury resulting from facial trauma that it can mask other “minor” injuries resulting from the same incident. A tooth or gum line injury can easily go undetected when a fractured jaw has all of your attention. As the major damage begins to fade, the “smaller” wounds (like toothaches) can rise to the surface.
The interconnectivity of the musculature and nerves in the jaw means that the injury need not occur in close proximity of the teeth. Pain centralized in the hinges of your jaw, for example, can impact your teeth. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that the distance between two sources of pain means they can’t be related.
If you’ve never had the misfortune of losing a filling, you might not realize that they can come out at all. Over time, wear and tear against the tooth or the filling itself can cause the underlying nerve to become exposed. You’ll know it if it happens, though: an exposed nerve is incredibly painful, made all the more frustrating by how much distress it causes despite being so small.
It should be noted that a filling doesn’t need to fall out entirely to expose a nerve. If the cavity that was filled worsens, it can expose even a slight area of nerves and set your mouth on fire. Any pressure or contact is enough to set it off.
Damaged fillings drive home the need to see a dentist for major tooth pain. It’s incredibly difficult for us to see the state of our fillings without getting a professional examination.
On the subject of fillings, tooth decay left untreated will also expose underlying nerves. Cavities are just one example, but anyone suffering from tooth decay should be able to notice the physical changes in their teeth. Correcting tooth decay can take multiple dental procedures as well as dietary changes—because of the money involved in the former and the effort required by the latter, many people sadly choose to ignore the problem.
Because tooth decay is the destruction of teeth, it’s much easier to detect than a damaged filling, and the sooner you recognize its signs, the faster you can address it. If caught early on, you may be able to prevent nerves from being exposed at all.
Whether it be in the gums or in a tooth itself, an infection couples the pain of inflamed nerves with the joy of fever, headache, dizziness, and other fun symptoms that can pull you in several directions at once. Of particular note is the dental abscess, when an infection results in pus inside of the tooth. Try not to think about what that looks like for too long: it certainly isn’t pretty.
However, infections that can wreak havoc on your teeth aren’t just limited to your mouth. Ear and sinus infections can spread if left untreated. The pain from infections tends to carry throughout the day as opposed to striking at different times throughout it.
Your “Bite” Habits
Most of us weren’t born with perfectly aligned teeth, nor do we always practice the best habits. We are imperfect creatures and thus we sometimes do pretty foolish things, like unknowingly wearing down our teeth. This is usually thought of as grinding, which can be a waking or sleeping habit, but how we bite can also cause damage, especially to those with misaligned teeth.
The good news is that issues like grinding and damaging bites can be addressed with therapy. In the case of severe misalignment, dental procedures may be the best way to address the problem. Either way, a dentist will need to confirm either issue.
Something Stuck in Your Teeth
Do you floss? Do you lie to your dentist about how much you floss? If you answered “yes” to either or both of these questions, you’re putting yourself at risk for one of the most awkward types of tooth pain: having something stuck between a tooth (or teeth) and your gums.
Food does breakdown over time, albeit slowly, so in some cases having a bit of a snack poking around your gum line isn’t so big of an issue. But it could result in long-term damage to either the gums, teeth or both, including bleeding and misalignment. Those were the consequences, wouldn’t it be easier to just pick up the damn floss once in a while?
Side effects that are associated with toothaches include, but are not limited to:
-Fever (usually related to infection)
-Trouble breathing, swallowing or talking
-Abnormal swelling around the painful area (common with abscesses and infections)
-Bleeding or blood in saliva
-Foul taste in the mouth
How To Sleep With a Toothache
Dulling the pain of a toothache so that you can sleep is an easy process and can be done with commonly found goods. In fact, you may have everything you need in your home already. When the pain is too much to bear, and you can’t count those sheep, give some of these methods a try.
Elevate Your Head
One of the things that makes the pain of a toothache feel even worse is good blood flow. When you’re lying down in bed, your circulation improves all over your body, but especially to the head. With the increased blood flow comes a stronger sensitivity to pain.
Keeping your head elevated is a simple way to reduce pressure on the afflicted tooth or teeth. You can try using a thicker pillow (or multiple pillows) to keep your head propped at an angle, or raise the head of your bed if it’s adjustable. A recliner works just as well and should be comfortable enough to help you fall asleep.
Over The Counter Pain Relievers
Your next go-to should be your favorite brand of pain reliever. It doesn’t need to have special qualities: whatever you use for the occasional aches and soreness will do. Of all the methods, this one is also the easiest to use during the day, regardless of where you are. Just slide the bottle in your bag, purse, or pocket and head out the door.
Sleep on an Ice Pack
The chill brought on by a well-frozen ice pack can bring rapid relief to even the most stubborn tooth pain. If the pain is on either side of your mouth, you can make do by placing the pack on your pillow and resting directly on top of it. If the source of the pain is at the front of your mouth, you’ll have a hard time utilizing an ice pack effectively, especially once you’re asleep.
Ice packs are much-beloved pain remedies because they can be used again and again without the need to purchase more. Their downside, though, is the speed at which they melt. Both your body temperature and the temperature of your room determine this, but ultimately the ice is likely to melt in only a few hours. It might be enough to get you sleeping through the night, but for prolonged relief, you might want to look elsewhere.
Rinse With Mouthwash Before Bed
There are a few different rinses recommended for toothaches (which we’ll get into shortly), but we’ll focus on using mouthwash first because it’s part of most people’s routine. If you’re using a mouthwash that contains alcohol, use it as you normally would but spend a little time swishing it around the affected area. The antiseptic qualities will help keep the area clean while also numbing the pain.
If you don’t use mouthwash or aren’t fond of alcohol, a salt solution can work just as well. Just a teaspoon of salt in a small glass of water used the same way as above will get you close to the same results. If you’re having difficulty making it past the taste of a salt rinse, you can try rinsing with ice water instead. It won’t help keep things clean, but the chill can quickly ease pain (though see the next entry for a word of caution on cold beverages).
Adjust Your Diet
If your pain is related to tooth decay in any form, sugary foods and drinks will not only worsen the state of decay but trigger pain as well. Things to avoid all day (not just before bed) include soda, energy drinks, ice cream, cakes, and candy. If you’re not sure, just read the label.
While sugar tends to get much of the focus when it comes to toothaches, acidic foods and drinks must also be considered. Many foods we think of as healthy, like fruits, contain citric acid that irritates tooth pain just as much sugar does.
Finally, drinks that are extremely hot or cold can irritate exposed nerves, and if such a drink causes you extreme pain, it’s likely indicative of a dental emergency.
A Word On Natural Remedies
As with all areas of medical treatment, some swear by simple home remedies to treat toothaches. These include chewing on certain vegetables, making a rinse with spices and herbs, or using specific oils as a solution. We won’t list them here because it’s difficult to vouch for how effective they are, but we mention them simply as an option.
That being said, if you want to try a home remedy, you should absolutely consult your doctor first. Since home remedies aren’t proven or medically recognized, they may have interactions with you or your medications that could make them dangerous. Proceed with tremendous caution.
Visit Your Dentist ASAP
These remedies are quick, simple, and quite appealing, and they may bring you pain relief for longer than you think. That said, these are merely aids to help you fall asleep at night despite your toothache and are only meant to be used temporarily. As tempting as it might be to rely on them night after night to avoid a bill from your dentist, the pain could be indicative of a deeper, more serious issue that needs to be addressed for the sake of your health.
If you find that one of these treatments helps you get a good night’s sleep, make sure you call your dentist’s office as soon as you can for a proper examination and diagnosis.
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