How Long Does a Toothache Last?

Written, Edited, and Reviewed by Dr David Chen.

The duration of a toothache will depend on the underlying cause but typically, the severity of the pain is a good indicator for how long it can last. A mild toothache can last a couple of days but severe tooth pain can last indefinitely.

young girl getting a toothache

It all comes down to the underlying cause of your condition and how it evokes your pain. You may be fortunate because some of the etiologies may be transient but others will not go away without professional treatment.

So, do you know what is causing your tooth to ache? If you do, you’ll have your answer.

How long should a toothache last?

The duration of tooth pain ultimately depends on the etiology or underlying cause. Some of them may be transient and can resolve within a few days. Although the more serious conditions may last indefinitely and won’t go away without professional intervention.

Key takeaways:

  • Mild conditions result in discomfort for 2-3 days.
  • Severe conditions can persist for all eternity if left untreated.

Conditions with short lasting toothaches

The less severe and more minor oral conditions will typically only be painful for 2-3 days at most, thus resulting in a short lived toothache. These are often slight injuries or unsuspecting insults to the dentition.

Conditions which cause temporary discomfort:

  • Foreign body impaction. Small hard foods can potentially become impacted into the gums and thus cause it to swell up. It’ll feel very tender and mildly painful if it happens.
  • Cut or scrape. Hard foods can be sharp and they can injure the gingiva by scraping them.
  • Accidentally biting into hard foods. A hard chomp the wrong way can cause mild tooth pain. You’ll immediately feel the pressure reverberate through the root and into the jaw bone.
  • Tooth concussion. An accidental hit to your mouth such as from a sports accident can leave your tooth bruised with a concussion.
  • Forgetting to floss for a few days. If you don’t floss for a couple of days and food gets jammed in there. That can be a recipe for the gums to swell up and become inflamed.

Usually with good oral hygiene practices, all of these conditions above will resolve without further intervention. You’ll often notice a day to day improvement in your symptoms.

Conditions with indefinite toothaches

The oral conditions which have the potential to cause long lasting tooth pain will often be accompanied with more severe pain. The etiology of these are such that they will not self-resolve and do require dentist intervention for them to go away.

Conditions with indefinite discomfort:

  • Tooth decay. Cavities will only get bigger if you leave them untreated. They initially start at the enamel and then progress to the pulp in successive stages.
  • Irreversible pulpitis. Tooth nerve injuries can result in pulpitis which is irreversible. That means the pulp can no longer recover to a healthy state.
  • Dental abscess. An abscess is definitely not short lasting because it will persist until you get rid of the infection’s source. That usually involves draining it along with either a root canal or extraction.
  • Fractured tooth. Depending on the severity of the crack in your tooth, it may or may not be able to be saved. Nonetheless, the tooth will need to be restored or removed for the toothache to be resolved.

If you think you have any of these, you shouldn’t wait to see what happens. Contacting a dentist immediately would be the correct choice of action. The symptoms for these conditions typically get worse the longer you wait.

Wisdom teeth pain

We’ve decided to give pain from wisdom teeth their own category because they can be indefinite but they also come and go. They’ll typically cause you discomfort for about 1-2 weeks and then disappear on their own.

impacted wisdom teeth cartoon joke

However, they do return at some later date in the future. It could be weeks or months before they return. Other times they can be dormant or many years later before resurfacing.

How do you stop a throbbing toothache?

A mild toothache that is self-limiting can be successfully managed at home with various OTC medications and home remedies. However, a severe toothache may be immune to at home care so you should seek out a dentist if you want permanent pain relief.

Temporary relief with home remedies

Home remedies will not permanently get rid of a toothache but they can temporarily alleviate them.

OTC medication

Over the counter pain relievers and numbing gels can help alleviate your toothache.

  • Painkillers – ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, naproxen, etc.
  • Numbing gels – orajel and anbesol.

However, did you know that combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen provides a synergistic pain alleviation effect? That is essentially what is in advil dual action.

Saltwater rinse

Salt is a proven natural antiseptic where rinsing with it can reduce inflammation and expedite healing in your mouth.

How to use:

  1. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt into 4 ounces of warm water.
  2. Swish for 30 seconds, and then spit it out.

Hydrogen peroxide rinse

Hydrogen peroxide is a very potent antiseptic mouthwash. A diluted rinse with this little brown bottle solution can eliminate half of the bacteria in just 15 seconds.

How to use:

  1. Mix half peroxide with half water in 1:1 ratio.
  2. Swish for 30 seconds and then spit out.

Please do not rinse with hydrogen peroxide at full strength because it can burn your mouth. For your own safety, just remember to always dilute and never swallow.

Cold compress

Applying a cold compress to the affected area helps to numb the area for pain alleviation and also reduce inflammatory swelling. You can wrap a bag of ice or frozen veggies in a clean towel, and then hold it against your outside jaw for about 20 minutes. Repeat several times a day.

Essential oils

Most essential oils do have an analgesic property, which means it can help alleviate your pain.

Common essential oils:

  • Clove oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Basil oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Peppermint oil

Other types of remedies

Aside from the commonly known home remedies, here are a couple of less common ones.

  • Willow bark – Contains salicin which is the predecessor to modern day aspirin.
  • Toothache plant – Has a tingly numbing sensation when chewed on. It is exotic and you probably won’t find this!

Permanent dental treatment

Unbearable tooth pain will need to be treated by a dentist if you want to alleviate the pain for good. Home remedies may tickle it and provide a teensy little bit of relief but will do very little in the face of a severe aching tooth.

If you have a small cavity or chipped a piece of your tooth, your dentist will most likely recommend a tooth filling. Your tooth can be restored by bonding a composite resin or by even placing an amalgam restoration.

During this procedure, any damaged portions of the tooth will be removed and then restored with a filling material.

Large cavities or fractures that may have damaged the bulk of your tooth will require more than just a filling. The filling wouldn’t suffice because it isn’t strong enough to support the damaged tooth structure so a crown is recommended instead.

ceramic crown on molar

A dental crown is often referred to as a “tooth cap” which is placed over your entire tooth to protect and strengthen it. It is often made of ceramic and porcelain to also help enhance the aesthetics while reducing the risk for further damage.

An alternative would be an inlay or onlay. These are indirect custom ceramic restorations that fit into your tooth like a puzzle piece. They’re often used if the damage is more than what a filling can handle but less than what is necessary for a crown. You can think of it as an in-between treatment for moderate sized damage.

Any conditions which affect the tooth nerve such as decay from bacteria or injury to the pulp will require a root canal. That is the only type of nerve treatment available which can alleviate pain from an unhealthy or infected nerve.

This procedure removes the inflamed nerve, blood vessels and connective tissues from inside the canals and pulp. After it’s been completely disinfected, your dentist will fill your pulp chamber and root canals with a filling material called gutta percha.

root canal steps diagram

In most cases, you’ll also need a crown to protect the tooth since it does become weakened after the procedure. The blood supply is now cut off so it no longer receives nutrients which means it will become more brittle without any protection.

All dentists prefer to save natural teeth whenever they can but sometimes it may not be possible if the condition is too severe. This is especially true for a tooth that is broken down to the gum line or a dental abscess with severe facial swelling.

For severe situations, the tooth will need to be completely removed with an extraction. Most people are familiar with wisdom teeth extractions but sometimes even your permanent teeth need to be removed too.

During this procedure, your dentist will carefully extract the tooth from the alveolar bone and clean out any infection within the socket. After it’s been pulled, your treatment is not done because you should discuss replacement options.

Options to replace a missing tooth:

  • Bridge: Connected crowns that replace a missing tooth with a pontic and at least two abutments.
  • Implant: A titanium screw gets fixed into the alveolar bone. Afterwards an implant crown can be placed over it to restore your smile.
  • Flipper: A temporary partial denture often used for missing front teeth. It can buy time until the patient is ready to decide which permanent option they prefer.
  • Partial dentures: Yes, dentures can be used to replace one or more teeth, it doesn’t have to be for the entire dentition.

Any type of fluctuant swelling in the mouth or face will not go away without being drained. The only way to deflate it is with a procedure called an “I and D” (incision and drainage).

As the name implies, an incision is first made into the swollen abscess. Then the fluctuant mass gets drained with a hemostat, digital pressure, and potentially with a penrose drain.

penrose drain
penrose drain

The penrose drain is a sterile flexible tubing which gets sewn into the wound in order to keep it open. The purpose is to allow the pus and exudate to freely flow out of it and prevent you from swelling back up again.

While not a primary form of treatment, prescription medication can be used as an adjunct to dental procedures. They often help accelerate healing and alleviate pain while you recover from the treatment.

Commonly prescribed medications:

  • Antibiotics. The most common dental antibiotic is amoxicillin which is a type of penicillin. It can treat most dental infections.
  • Antibiotic rinse. A popular antibiotic rinse which helps speed up gum healing is called chlorhexidine. It may taste terrible but it works wonders in the mouth.
  • Painkillers. Pain relieving medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are the workhorse of pain management in dentistry. Although for major surgeries where an unbearable toothache may be expected, opioids (Vicodin & Percocet) can be given.

It is important to note that NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are preferred over painkillers without anti-inflammation properties. It is crucial to reducing tooth pain.

When should I see a dentist?

We have three simple guidelines as for when you should see a dentist if your tooth is hurting.

  • There are no signs of improvement after 2 days.
  • Unbearable tooth pain that is a 7+ out of 10 on the pain scale.
  • Swelling in the mouth, face, or jaw.

All three of these scenarios are an indication that your condition is too severe for you to self-manage a toothache at home. It means that whatever you try to do for it at home will have very little effect.


1311 Jackson Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101

Email Us


Dental Services

If you're in NYC and in need of a dentist, please schedule an appointment with our clinical dental practice, 1311 Jackson Ave Dental.

Our purpose at afterva, is to encourage you to seek in person care with a doctor. It's not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. Each situation is unique and that makes it impossible to diagnose and treat without a clinical exam.

sitemap | privacy policy