It's a great little quick-cure that many people recommend and you are wondering 'why DOES holding water in my mouth help with my toothache?'. We have some bad news for you, unfortunately. You quite likely have a condition called pulpitis. Before you panic, let's explain a little about the science behind it and then we will move on to let you know what you can do it about it.
Why does cold water helping my toothache equate to pulpitis?
First off, we need to explain a little about tooth pain. Tooth pain, as well as ALL pain is linked to two different nerve fibers in your body. The ones that we are concerned with are these:
- A-delta fiber - The larger of the pair, these have a diameter ranging between 1-5 micrometers. These are the 'fast' pain receptors. If you stub your toe, A-delta takes the equivalent of the carpool lane to race at breakneck speed to your brain, resulting in a resounding 'ouch!' on our parts.
- C-fibers - These fibers measure at a diameter of.2-1.5 micrometers and they are responsible for slow, dull aches and pains. This is because these take a longer route to your brain then their A-delta neighbors.
What does that mean for you? If cold water is the only thing helping your toothache, it is possible that you have a dead nerve in your tooth. We'll explain a little more about pulpitis to clarify.
Some information regarding pulpitis: Why does cold water help with my toothache?
When a nerve dies, a few things occur. First, pressure is put on the A-delta fibers. This is why hot water hurts and cold water soothes. The cold water is just regulating the temperature and putting less pressure on the A-delta fiber. An icepack would produce the same results. Pulpitis comes in two kinds, however. There is the kind that comes before an infection(which is reversible). The way to tell if you have this kind is to note if your sensitivity to sweetness, heat, and cold flares up and then fades quickly. If the sensitivity is constant, producing pain or even no feeling when biting, then you have the irreversible kind.
What causes pulpitis?
There are a number of things that can cause pulpitis. We should note at this time, if cold water only makes your toothache worse, that means that you do not have pulpitis (but you should still see the dentist quickly) Back to pulpitis, we've compiled a handy little list for you so that you can soak in the causal information for this condition at a glance:
- Receding gums - Receding gums can expose the root of your tooth to infection which can quickly and irreparably damage the pulp of the tooth.
- Bacterial infection - Bacteria is sneaky, if it finds it's way to the pulp of your tooth through a crack then it will attack and the pulp will decay.
- Trauma to the teeth - Cracks, repeated dental procedures, traumatic dental damage... these things all potentially open access to the pulp and can result in a dead nerve fiber.
So what can I do?
So, you've given your toothache the cold water test and the cold is stopping the pain. What next? If you are lucky and have the reversible kind, sometimes a cleaning followed by a simple filling can reverse the damage. If you have the irreversible kind, then the decay must be cleaned out, followed by restoration of what is left of the tooth. It's not fun but you will be glad to know that it's not the end of the world.
Okay, okay, so if cold water helps my toothache, it's definitely pulpitis?
Yes, if the tooth pain goes away with cold water, this is definitely pulpitis. That said, if you have just had an extraction or a cleaning then cases like these would be an exception. Testing through your dentist can provide the ultimate 'yea or nay' on the issue but the cold water test is generally a good indicator as to whether or not you have pulpitis.
“Receding gums can expose the root of your tooth to infection.”
Can an endodontist reverse pulpitis?
The 'irreversible' kind? Sadly, no. They CAN, however, increase your chances of dealing with the reversible kind. The endodontist has had a few more years in university than your general practice dentist. The subject of this training? The pulp of the teeth. This means for you that employing an endodontist to take over your treatment or to assist your dentist can greatly increase the chance of successful treatment of reversible pulpitis.
How do I prevent pulpitis in the first place?
Now we are talking! Take an aggressive stance in your own dental hygiene. Try a few of these things to build up your defenses:
- Treat inflamed gums immediately - Don't put off those dental visits. Get looked at when you see the first sign of trouble. Around 47% of Americans have periodontal disease, but despite these numbers they avoid the dentist and just let it proceed. Don't be one of those people.
- Brush and floss regularly - Brush your teeth at a 45 degree angle and at least 2 times a day. Floss as well, making sure you curve that floss on both sides of the individual teeth. Get up in the gum as well to get those sneaky 'foodgitives'(fugitive food, get it?). This pays off in the long run.
- Regular dental visits - Visit your dentist a minimum of once every 3 months. If you think that you have periodontist, here is a pro tip: Visit more frequently. If you find yourself in need of a deep-cleaning, then regular visits will mean less cleaning and less discomfort for you. Plan ahead!
Well, there you have it. If cold water helps the pain, it's bad news but very manageable bad news. What matters the most is what you do with this knowledge. Now that you know, what will you do?