Toothache (Pulpitis) in Children
What is a toothache in children?
A toothache (pulpitis) is when the pulp inside a tooth becomes inflamed and infected.
The pulp is the soft part inside the tooth that has blood vessels and nerves.
What causes a toothache in a child?
A toothache often happens after an injury to the tooth. The most common form of injury
to a tooth is from a cavity. This is a hole in a tooth.
A cavity is often the result of poor dental hygiene. Sugar and starch in foods allow
bacteria in the mouth to damage the teeth. The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar
and starch and make an acid that can eat through the teeth. This leads to tooth decay.
What are the symptoms of a toothache in a child?
Each child may feel symptoms a bit differently. But below are the most common symptoms
of a toothache:
- Constant, throbbing pain in a tooth
- Pain in the tooth that gets worse when the tooth is touched
- Pain in the tooth that gets worse with hot or cold foods or liquids
- A sore, tender jaw around the tooth
- Generally tired and feeling badly (malaise)
How is a toothache diagnosed in a child?
Your child’s healthcare provider can often diagnose a toothache with a complete health
history and exam of your child. He or she will likely refer your child to a dentist
for evaluation and care.
At the dentist, your child may have X-rays done. An X-ray makes images of internal
tissues, bones, and teeth. The dentist may also check for cavities using a device
called a transilluminator. It uses no radiation.
The symptoms of a toothache may seem like other health or dental problems. Make sure
your child sees his or her healthcare provider or dentist for a diagnosis.
How is a toothache treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
- Pain medicine
- Warm saltwater rinses for the mouth
- Tooth removal
- Draining of an abscess, if needed
- Root canal. This is surgery that removes the inflamed pulp from the middle of the
If the infection is severe, your child may be treated in a hospital. He or she may
need antibiotics through an IV (intravenous) tube.
How can I help prevent a toothache in my child?
Good oral habits can prevent cavities, the leading reason for a toothache. Make sure
- Brushes his or her teeth twice a day
- Flosses daily
- Sees the dentist regularly. The dentist can find and treat cavities early before they
cause damage to the pulp. He or she can also give treatments to stop cavities from
- Eats healthy foods, limiting those high in sugar and starch
Key points about a toothache in children
- A toothache is when the pulp inside a tooth becomes inflamed and infected.
- Most toothaches are caused by cavities.
- Besides pain, a toothache may cause fever and malaise.
- X-rays can diagnose a toothache.
- Treatment may include antibiotics, pain medicine, and removal of the tooth.
- Toothaches can be prevented with good oral care.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.