What You Should Know When Your Child Says, “My Tooth Hurts, Mommy.”

Toothaches are no fun for adults or children. When a child has a toothache, it can be difficult to determine what is causing the pain or even exactly where the pain is. Toothaches can interfere with sleep and cause significant stress, and parents may feel helpless and uncertain how to ease the pain.

The first thing to do is make sure it’s really a toothache you’re dealing with. Depending on the age of the child and their communication skills, what they call a toothache may in fact be a bitten tongue or sore gums. Sometimes “toothaches” may be caused by new teeth that are coming in.

Actual toothaches may be caused by a number of things. Tooth decay is one of them. Another common cause of toothache is food stuck between the teeth, so look for food particles and see if they can be removed with dental floss. Sometimes baby teeth may come out before they are ready because of jarring or vigorous wiggling, and this can also cause pain.

If you are unable to determine the cause of the pain and relieve it, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with your child’s dentist. Until then, there are some things you can do to help make your child more comfortable.

Plain, warm water or warm salt water can relieve pain temporarily. Provide your child with a glass of warm water so they can rinse and spit the water back out, repeating when the tooth starts to hurt again. Alternately, some toothaches respond better to cold water or a towel-wrapped ice pack applied to the outside of the cheek.

Until your child feels better, give him or her only liquids and soft foods at room temperature. Salty or very hot or cold foods may cause increased pain. Biting down while chewing, drinking sugary drinks, and pressing the top and bottom teeth together may all contribute to the discomfort.

Distracting your child may work too. Try taking his or her mind off the tooth by reading a story or allowing him or her to play a favorite game or watch a favorite movie. You can also try over the counter pain relievers, making sure to use the correct dosage for your child’s age and weight.

These tips can help keep pain at bay until your dentist appointment. Let the dentist know if you see a visible cavity in the tooth, a lump at the gum line of the painful tooth, or if the toothache has lasted for more than a day. Also watch for any signs of infection such as fever, swelling of the face, or severe pain, and contact the dentist immediately if you notice any of these.