If you have been through a lot of toothaches, then most likely you’ve heard and tried the trick of holding cold water in your mouth. In some cases, it might have worked and in some, not. So you might be wondering, “Why does holding water in my mouth help my toothache in some cases and at other times not?”

Let’s unpack the mystery today and learn what it is actually telling you about the state of your oral health when the trick works its magic and when it doesn’t.

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Why Does Holding Water in My Mouth Help My Toothache in Some Cases and at Other Times Not?

The Trick

If you’ve got a nagging toothache, then fill your mouth with cold water, swish it around the tooth that’s giving you pain, then spit out the water. As the cold water hits the affected tooth, you’re supposed to feel quick relief. You’re to repeat the process every time you feel the pain coming up again.

The Science Behind It

Whether you’re curious about why it has worked or want to know if it’s safe, here’s an explanation of the trick:

Your tooth has two main nerve fibers: the A-delta fibers and the C fibers. Now, the A-delta fibers, which have large-diameter cell bodies, are stimulated by application of cold. They produce sharp pain when stimulated. The small-diameter, C-fibers, on the other hand, causes a lingering and dull aching pain.

When a nerve dies inside your tooth, pressure starts to increase inside and compresses the A-fibers. Thus, when the added heat in the environment makes your tooth hurt, and cold water relieves your pain, it means you have a dead nerve. The application of cold water is merely regulating the heat and pressure building up inside your tooth.

So, alternatively, massaging the area with a cold finger or applying a cold pack on the cheek will also do the trick.

Its Advantages

There are many advantages to using cold water to abate a toothache.

  • Availability

One, they can be easily obtained at home, in the office, or most stores. If you don’t have ice-cold water, then water from the tap or dispenser may help, although not as quick as ice-cold water.

  • Quick-relief

Did I mention quick? Well, that’s another advantage to using cold water. It’s faster even compared to painkillers. So, if you don’t have access to pain relievers or you are waiting for the pain reliever you just took to take effect, then you can rely on a cold swish or pack.

  • No side effects

Lastly, cold water has no side effects. It’s completely natural.

Its Disadvantages

Likewise, there are disadvantages, too, in using cold water to abate a toothache.

  • Temporary

Sadly, the pain-alleviating effect of cold water is temporary. Once the heat and pressure build up again inside the tooth, you may have to go to the bathroom every so often to swish and flush the water out from your mouth. Small matter in exchange for pain relief! But if you’re trying to get some sleep, then it’s not going to be any help.

  • May worsen the pain

It’s also important to note that cold water is going to make your tooth hurt if the problem is caused by an exposed nerve, not by a dead one.

That also goes to say that when the trick works, it’s a good news-bad news thing. Good news because you’re pain-free—at least for a few minutes. Bad news because it means that you have an infected nerve that has already died. If your toothache responds to this easy home remedy, then it means you have a bad case of irreversible pulpitis.

What Is Pulpitis?

There are two kinds of pulpitis. One is reversible, an inflammatory response that resolves before causing an infection. The other is irreversible pulpitis, which means the infection got so bad that it led to necrosis of the pulp as well as a tooth abscess.

Several things may cause pulpitis. Bacteria found in tooth decay may find its way to the pulp, causing infection. If the cavity is still small and proper treatment is applied early on, chances are it can still be reversed. Extensive decay that’s near or at the dental pulp, however, is irreversible.

Another cause for pulpitis is an exposed root caused by gum recession. The same is true for repeated dental procedures, cracks, and trauma.

How Do You Know It’s Reversible or Not?

If the sensitivity to heat, cold, and sweets lessens fast, then it’s good news, and it’s time to act on it quick with a trip to the dentist. If the sensitivity is prolonged coupled with or without pain when biting, then it means that you have irreversible pulpitis.

And as mentioned earlier, a toothache relieved by ice or cold water means your case is irreversible. While nothing more can be done to save the tooth, a visit to the dentist has to be made to put an end to the pain and the infection.

What to Expect on Your Trip to the Dentist?

For reversible pulpitis, the dentist will scale off the rotten surface and apply filling on the area. For an exposed root, the dentist may put a filling over it or treat the area with a desensitizing solution. You can expect improvement on the affected and treated area after a few days when the inflammation subsides.

As for irreversible pulpitis, the dentist is likely to perform a root canal treatment to save the tooth or tooth extraction for a severely damaged one or if you have no budget for a root canal treatment.

Whether reversible or not, pulpitis merits the attention of a dentist or endodontist. The risk of the infection spreading to the jaw or other surrounding areas is there if pulpitis is left untreated.

Parting Words

So, we hope that answers your question: “Why does holding water in my mouth help my toothache in some cases and at other times not?” Since cold water working for you is a good news-bad news thing, we just wish that you get the pain relief you need right now, and we encourage you to seek the expert help of a dentist or endodontist to get to the root of the problem finally and to provide you lasting pain relief.

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