Toothache in Kids Doesn’t Have to Be Bad. Here’s How to Relieve Pain Naturally

Is your little one having a toothache? Make sure you know what’s causing it, along with some remedies, and tips for prevention.

Little boy in blue shirt holds cheek due to toothache

From time to time, your child may suffer from a wicked toothache. Thankfully, there are several ways to address the pain and its cause, and how to avoid it. There are some natural remedies you can resort to that can help your little one feel better again. Read on to learn some tips on how to manage and prevent toothache for your child. 

Symptoms and Causes of Toothache in Children  

A toothache is usually caused by some kind of injury to the teeth that expose the inside or “pulp”. That’s also where the blood vessels and nerves are, hence the toothache. The medical term for this is pulpitis. However, pain in the teeth or gums could also have other causes that you should be aware of. 

Common symptoms 

Symptoms may include constant throbbing, an area of the teeth or gum that is sensitive to the touch or worsening pain when they drink or eat hot or cold foods. There are also other symptoms such as difficulty in eating or sleeping. These can be clues as to why your child is unable to engage in usual daily activities. If it’s a bad infection, your child may have a fever or even general malaise. 

Tooth decay – the most common culprit 

Tooth decay happens when the enamel wears away, exposing the nerves inside while causing a toothache. A combination of poor dental hygiene and too many sweets consumptions can cause tooth decay in children, also known as cavities or caries.

Not brushing their teeth properly and eating a lot of sugary foods will give rise to harmful bacteria living on the teeth, producing acid, which in turn wears away the tooth enamel.

In earlier stages, you and your child may not realise that a cavity is slowly and silently forming. As it progresses, the cavity may appear as light brown stains, and over time as it gets worse, the stain turns into a darker brown or black. 

A cavity can turn into a dental abscess deep in the tooth, forming a pimple just below the gumline that is extremely painful. It may include a swollen mouth and face on the side where the abscess is located. Your child may complain of a strange taste, and their breath may smell quite bad. 

Other possible causes 

Sometimes, there could be other things that are causing a toothache. If you rule out cavities as the source of the pain, it may be that your child has physically broken their teeth by biting into something too hard or falling and cracking their teeth on a hard surface.

It can also be food stuck in between their teeth, exerting pressure, and causing the aching. Sometimes it may not even be the teeth causing the pain, but the area near the teeth, such as having inflamed gums or gingivitis (also caused by bacteria), an earache, or sinus pressure due to a bad cold

Managing Your Child’s Toothache  

Young mother gently brushing her toddler’s teeth
Teeth-brushing should begin as soon as your child’s milk teeth appear.

Ideally, you can avoid toothaches altogether by instilling behaviours that ensure dental hygiene and health. But children are growing humans, and toothaches can be a normal part of growing up. The key is to manage the pain when one crops up and to prevent future occurrences. 

Try natural remedies  

There are a few things at home you can use to ease your child’s toothache while waiting to visit the dentist. Have them gargle saltwater, which has an antibacterial compound and can help ease the infection of a cavity. You can also apply a cold compress to numb the pain. 

Certain essential oils like Clove, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Oregano or Thyme, have natural anaesthetic and antimicrobial properties. Dilute the oil and dab on the aching spot gently using a cotton ball or bud. 

Develop good dental hygiene habits 

As soon as your child’s milk teeth appear, start brushing their teeth regularly. When they can, show them how to brush properly by holding their hand, so that they can use the correct motion. Train your child to brush twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Teach them how to regularly floss as well.

Limit sugar consumption, but if they have to, (they’re children after all), then rinse their mouth with water or mouthwash right after. Develop the habit of eating healthier snacks like fruits rather than sticky candy to minimise the chances of tooth decay. 

Use toothpaste that has fluoride in it, as research has shown that it is important for developing healthy teeth enamel. Do note that occasionally — depending on whether the water in your home is already fluoridated — children under eight years old can sometimes develop fluorosis from consuming too much fluoride.

Symptoms primarily look like faint white flecks on the teeth. It is usually harmless and will go away with time. Take your child to the dentist every six months to monitor their oral health, to detect and address issues. 

Managing Toothache the TCM Way 

Dried golden bell in a wooden bowl with some spilling outside the bowl
Golden bell is the main ingredient used in yin qiao san (银翘散), a TCM formulation that can be used to treat toothache.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, imbalances in Wind and Fire, or an external pathogen such as a bacterial infection, can cause toothache in children, as shared by TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling.

“Toothache due to Wind Heat versus Wind Cold will present with acute sharp pain with a burning or cold sensation, respectively. Meanwhile, toothache stemming from Stomach Fire usually comes with chronic sharp pain and a burning sensation, accompanied by redness of the face and gums, gum pain, constipation, bad breath, and persistent thirst.

“If it is Fire Deficiency in the Kidney, the chronic pain is intermittent and dull in nature, accompanied by night perspiration and a dry stool,” she further explains. 

Wind Heat can be addressed with yin qiao san (银翘散), Wind Cold with jing fang bai du san (荆防败毒散), Stomach Heat with qing wei san (清胃散), and hyperactivity of Fire Deficiency in the Kidney with zhi bai di huang wan (知柏地黄丸).

Light herbal drinks that contain ingredients like turmeric can also help manage inflammation. Galla chinensis or wu bei zi (五倍子) is a TCM herb in powder form that you can place on a painful spot or gargle with water.

“Toothache is one of the conditions listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for which acupuncture is a recognized treatment,” Physician Lim shares. You can also try paediatric tuina massage which works on the same acupoints to elicit the same relieving effects.

As with all medicines and modalities, follow the guidelines of your healthcare practitioner. For bacterial infections, be sure to go to the dentist immediately. 

Toothaches are certainly preventable, although common among children, especially pain caused by decay. Having some natural remedies at your fingertips will help them feel better. Helping your child develop good habits in oral care will help prevent toothaches and ensure their oral health is top-notch.

References

  1. MyHEALTH, Malaysia Ministry of Health. 2019. Toothache. [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  2. MyHEALTH, Malaysia Ministry of Health. 2012. Use of Fluoridated Toothpaste for Children. [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  3. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. 2021. Toothache (Pulpitis) in Children. [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  4. Seattle Children’s Hospital. 2021. Toothache. [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tooth Decay (Caries or Cavities) in Children. [online] [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  6. Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Toothache. [online] [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  7. United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS). 2021. Children’s Teeth. [online]  [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Fluorosis. [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  9. Medical Acupuncture. 2014. Acupuncture: An Alternative Therapy in Dentistry and Its Possible Applications. [online] [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  10. Organic Consumers Association. 2017. Chinese Herb Shows Promise Against Tooth Decay. [online] [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  11. Journal of International Society of Preventive and Community Dentistry. 2015. Essential oils, their therapeutic properties, and implication in dentistry: A review. [online] [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 
  12. Applied Sciences, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute. 2021. Essential Oils as Alternatives for Root-Canal Treatment and Infection Control against Enterococcus faecalis—A Preliminary Study. [online] [Accessed 11 January 2022]. 

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