Should Your Child See a Doctor?



  • Pain or discomfort in a tooth
  • Not due to an injury


  • Main Cause: tooth decay
  • Food wedged between the teeth
  • Injured tooth

When to Call Your Doctor for Toothache

Call Your Dentist or Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Fever is present
  • Face is swollen
  • Severe pain and not improved 2 hours after taking pain medicine

Call Your Dentist Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Toothache present over 24 hours
  • Brown cavity visible in the painful tooth
  • Red or yellow lump present at the gumline of the painful tooth

Call Your Dentist During Weekday Office Hours If

  • You have other questions or concerns

Parent Care at Home If

  • Mild toothache present less than 24 hours and you don't think your child needs to be seen

Home Care Advice for a Mild Toothache

  1. Reassurance: Most toothaches are temporary and due to a sensitive tooth. If the pain becomes worse or doesn't resolve in 24 hours, it could be due to a small cavity.
  2. Floss: Floss on either side of the painful tooth to remove any wedged food.
  3. Pain Medicine: Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief.
  4. Local Cold: Apply a cold pack or ice in a wet washcloth to the painful jaw for 20 minutes.
  5. Expected Course: Most minor causes of toothache resolve in less than a day.
  6. Call Your Dentist If:
    • Toothache persists over 24 hours
    • The toothache becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.


  1. AAP Section on Pediatric Dentistry. Preventive oral health intervention for pediatricians. Pediatrics. 2008;122 (6):1387-1393.
  2. Bimstein E. Peridontal health and disease in children and adolescents. Pediatr Clin North Am. 1991;38:1183-1207.
  3. Dorfman DH, Kastner B, Vinci RJ. Dental concerns unrelated to trauma in the pediatric emergency department. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155:699-703.
  4. Edelstein BL. Evidence-based dental care for children and the age 1 dental visit. Pediatr Ann. 1998;27:569-574.
  5. Marek MA, Lindsell CJ, Jauch EC, Panioli AM. Effect of education and guidelines for treatment of uncomplicated dental pain on patient and provider behavior. Ann Emerg Med. 2004;44:323-329.
  6. Mueller W. When baby teeth decay. Contemp Pediatr. 1993;10:75.
  7. Wilson S, et al. Nontraumatic dental emergencies in a pediatric emergency department. Clin Pediatr. 1997;36:333-337.


This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010

Last Revised: 8/6/2007

Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.