Pain After Dental Work: Types, Recovery Time, & Pain Relief

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

The number one reason people put off going to the dentist is a fear of pain. This can greatly damage your oral health and lead to many more problems down the road.

Some pain after a dental visit is to be expected, while other types of pain after dental work may require follow-up care.

You may wonder if your jaw pain or referred pain in your ears, eyes, or other areas of the face is normal, rare, or cause for alarm.

The most common types of pain after a dental visit include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Headache
  • Tooth pain
  • Gum pain
  • Ear pain

Common causes of pain after dental work are poor procedure, pre-existing inflammation, very large cavities, and irritation of TMD (TMJ pain).

People who struggle with teeth grinding/clenching are generally at the highest risk for postoperative pain.

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How long does pain after dental work last?

The majority of pain after dental treatment should go away in 1-2 days. For wisdom tooth surgery, pain may last closer to 1-2 weeks. If you have TMJ pain after dental work, it may take months for the pain to go away.

Typically, I recommend asking the dentist who will perform your procedure what kind of pain you should expect afterwards.

In addition, understanding what kind of pain to expect helps you know when your dental problems are cause for a follow-up visit.

Questions to ask your dentist include:

  • Will I feel stabbing pain? 
  • Should I expect a sore mouth? 
  • Will my teeth be sensitive to hot or cold? 
  • Should my recovery pain make it hard to perform daily tasks, or is it more likely to simply be annoying or minor?

If you experience pain outside of what your dentist describes as expected, call him or her to find out the next steps. If procedures have been performed poorly or if you have additional issues that must be corrected professionally, you may end up having to get a follow-up procedure.

1. Jaw Muscle Fatigue

What it is: Jaw muscle pain after dental work, like a filling or root canal, is muscle soreness caused by having the mouth open for a long time. People that grind their teeth a lot are more susceptible to this condition because their temporomandibular joint is already strained.

What it feels like: The jaw muscles give out, much like your leg muscles when running until you can hardly stand. Your muscles may feel tired, exhausted, and shaking, which produces pain.

How it happens: The mouth stays open for an extended period of time, exhausting the muscles of the jaw.

Your dentist may notice when this is happening during a procedure because you won’t be able to keep your mouth open and have accompanying muscle spasms. You may believe you’re holding your mouth open, even when you aren’t.

How to fix it: If you know you have TMJ problems, ask your dentist for a bite block. A bite block is a small rubber block that does not force your jaw open but allows it to stay open without jaw muscle exhaustion. The block does the work for you. 

How long should jaw muscle fatigue last? Jaw muscle pain after dental work is most common for longer procedures, like root canals, and can last for several days.

2. Pulpitis

What it is: Pulpitis is inflammation of the sensitive inner layer, or pulp, of the tooth.

What it feels like: Pulpitis causes sensitive teeth, painful when exposed to hot or cold. It can also cause generalized toothache and may eventually lead to an abscess if left untreated. This painful condition will usually be concentrated to the tooth your dentist worked on during the procedure.

The pain of pulpitis after dental work is similar to the pain you develop from extensive tooth decay.

There are two types of pulpitis: reversible pulpitis and irreversible pulpitis. If you have reversible pulpitis, you probably don’t feel pain unless something actually touches your affected tooth. Irreversible pulpitis feels more consistent and hurts worse.

How it happens: Even a simple filling can cause pulpitis. Aggressively prepping and drilling of the tooth can cause pulpitis. Your dentist also may have used a lot of air after drilling in the tooth, which can cause tooth pain to be generated from the filled area of the tooth. 

Rarely, a careless dentist may actually nick the nerve, leading to greater sensitivity and pain.

However, your dentist may find that a cavity is deeper and more extensive than originally thought, requiring the tooth be drilled into the nerve area. This would require a root canal.

Working on a cracked or chipped tooth may also cause pulpitis.

How to fix it: Reversible pulpitis can go away if the inflammation goes down, but your dentist will probably need to examine and correct the damage if possible. Irreversible pulpitis, once the inflammation reaches a certain point, requires a root canal or tooth extraction.

How long should pulpitis last? Pulpitis pain in a specific tooth several days after a dental procedure necessitates another visit to the dentist. Neither type of pulpitis is likely to go away on its own.

3. Referred Myofacial Pain

What it is: Any dental procedure may result in referred facial pain. This is pain that may affect the eye socket, ears, or other facial areas.

What it feels like: Referred myofacial pain may feel like an earache or other persistent pain in areas associated with the teeth, but outside of the mouth.

How it happens: This happens when nerves are inflamed or irritated by dental work but send pain throughout other nerves nearby. It can feel like a knotted muscle and will probably interfere with your sleep.

There’s no way to predict or prevent referred pain after a dental visit.

How to fix it: While this type of pain is very common, it’s also one that will require intervention from your dentist or oral surgeon.

Common ways to treat referred myofascial pain include trigger point injections and physical therapy.

How long should referred myofacial pain last? Referred myofacial pain after dental work probably won’t go away without further treatment.

4. Dry Socket Pain

What it is: Dry socket is bone pain that results from loss of the blood clot in a tooth socket after tooth extraction. This pain after dental visits is usually associated with more extensive oral surgery (like after wisdom teeth removal).

What it feels like: Dry socket pain is deep, sore pain that radiates from your tooth socket up and down the same side of your face.

The pain receptors in bone are very sensitive, which is why this condition hurts so much. 

Dry socket pain sometimes radiates up to the ear and may also cause worsened breath or unpleasant taste in the mouth. Other symptoms include headache and, on occasion, fever from a resulting infection.

How it happens: If the blood clot from your tooth extraction falls out before the 4-day mark after tooth extraction, you will probably develop dry socket. It’s most likely 2-3 days after your tooth is removed.

Any sucking motion in the mouth, like drinking through a straw or aggressive mouthwash swishing increases your chances of losing the blood clot over your exposed bone.

How to fix it: Dry socket that happens in the first 1-2 days after extraction will probably need to be corrected by your dentist or oral surgeon. Most of the time, he or she can use dry socket paste to relieve your pain and protect the exposed area so it has time to heal.

In severe cases, you may need bone graft material or surgical foam to support the healing process. This is most necessary for people with thinning bone (like those with advanced periodontal disease).

If your clot falls out between day 3-4, the pain is likely to clear up on its own without intervention. However, it’s always a good idea to contact your dentist/oral surgeon to find out what s/he would suggest.

Home remedies for dry socket pain may include over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, cold compress, salt water rinse, clove oil, and/or honey.

How long should dry socket pain last? Dry socket is typically painful for 7-10 days after tooth extraction. Patients with advancing gum disease may experience pain for several weeks.

5. Soft Tissue Injury Pain

What it is: Nicking the gums or tongue during a dental procedure will likely cause trauma in the mouth, resulting in soft tissue pain.

What it feels like: Injury of soft tissue typically results in throbbing pain that’s sensitive to touch, like when you chew food. It will probably also cause pain when you eat hot foods.

Anytime the tongue is harmed at all can be very painful. It’s one of the reasons your dentist discourages eating food that requires a lot of chewing following a procedure that requires anesthetic.

How it happens: Some people may inadvertently bite their tongues during a dental procedure, which will produce pain in the days following the procedure as the tongue heals. The gums may be nicked by dental instruments. 

Gums will also feel pain after procedures where they are purposefully incised, such as removal of an impacted wisdom tooth.

Burning your mouth with hot foods shortly after a procedure can also cause pain.

A biopsy usually does not cause a lot of pain, but there is the possibility of soft tissue involvement, which can cause pain as it heals.

How to fix it: Be very cautious eating after dental work where your mouth and tongue are numbed. Use a salt water rinse, clove oil, benzocaine, or another toothache home remedy to correct the pain.

How long should soft tissue injury pain last? Soft tissue pain should last 3 days or fewer, although it can open your body up to infection. The tongue is very sensitive and takes a while to heal, which can take 2-3 weeks.

If you develop an infection from this type of injury, your dentist will probably prescribe an antibiotic.

Numbness in the tongue, lips, and jaw (known as paresthesia) is normal for a few hours after many types of dental procedures. However, if it lasts much longer, it may be permanent. If this happens, talk to your dentist right away.

6. Dental Implant Pain

What it is: When you get a dental implant, you’ll have soreness in the days following the procedure.

What it feels like: Implant pain is inflammation in the bone, like dry socket, and bone pain is very generalized. It can refer, run up and down the jaw, and is very achy, which is the nature of bone pain.

The pain receptors in bone are one of the most sensitive types of pain receptors in the body.

How it happens: Some post-op pain should be expected after an implant, but it’s usually less than the pain of having a tooth pulled.

How to fix it: This type of pain after a dental visit should go away without any sort of intervention. Just be aware of this before your implant, and call your dentist if the pain persists for more than a few days.

How long should dental implant pain last? Dental implant pain usually lasts about 2-3 days.

7. Gum Graft Surgery Pain

What it is: If you have receding gums that have progressed to exposing sensitive dentin (or bone), your dentist may suggest you have gum graft surgery.

What it feels like: Pain after gum graft surgery can be significant, with a combination of bone pain and gum pain in two different parts of the mouth. Expect the pain to be generalized and somewhat severe for several days.

How it happens: In gum graft surgery, your gums are purposefully “injured” in the process of correcting gum recession. Because dentin was exposed, you’ll also have bone pain as a result of increased contact between dental instruments and bone.

How to fix it: This pain should be expected after gum graft surgery. Your oral surgeon should recommend pain relievers or give you a prescription for one. Let him or her know if the pain lasts longer than a week and doesn’t subside.

How long should gum graft surgery pain last? Gum graft surgery pain typically lasts a week or less.

8. Trismus

What it is: Trismus is a spasm of the jaw muscles, causing the mouth to remain tightly closed.

Trismus is sometimes called lockjaw, although it’s not the same “lockjaw” as a tetanus infection.

What it feels like: With trismus, your jaw muscles will spasm and close the mouth tightly. You can expect pain from the tensed muscles and possibly some tooth sensitivity from grinding.

Soreness and tenderness in the lower jaw are also symptoms of trismus.

How it happens: The needle used to inject local anesthetic may go through the muscle when a dentist is working on your lower teeth.

This doesn’t usually produce pain immediately following the procedure. But in 2-3 days following the procedure or injection, the muscle may stiffen, making it hard to open your mouth.

The condition will always be on the same side as the injection site, but it is fairly rare. You could also have it on both sides if you’re having your wisdom teeth out, though that’s even more rare.

How to fix it: Trismus is a condition your dentist should help you treat. He or she may prescribe a soft foods diet, physical therapy or massage, a jaw-stretching device, and/or muscle relaxers and pain relieving medication.

How long should trismus last? Trismus should last 2 weeks or less.

9. Tooth Sensitivity

What it is: Tooth sensitivity may happen after dental procedures like a teeth cleaning or even a dental crown. Anytime tooth enamel or gums are worked on, sensitivity can result.

What it feels like: Tooth sensitivity is generalized soreness when teeth are exposed to very hot or very cold foods or drinks.

How it happens: Tooth sensitivity is a normal pain to expect after any dental procedure. It happens because the sensitive tissues of the teeth and gums have been agitated during normal dental care.

This is more likely during a root planing and scaling, a deep teeth cleaning performed during gum disease treatment.

In some cases, a dental filling is too high and can cause sensitivity (usually on just one side of the mouth).

How to fix it: Tooth sensitivity from a dental procedure should go away on its own, but you can try a salt rinse or benzocaine for relief. If you know you struggle with sensitivity after normal procedures like cleanings at your check-ups, try tips for making your cleanings less painful.

If you got a dental filling that is too high and interferes with your bite, you’ll need to go back to the dentist to resolve the sensitivity.

How long should tooth sensitivity last? Tooth sensitivity caused by dental work should go away in 2-3 days.

How to Prevent Pain After a Dental Visit

While some pain is to be expected after most dental procedures, there are a few steps you can take to prevent it before it starts.

To prevent pain after dental work:

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Eating anti-inflammatory foods before you go to the dentist can be helpful in reducing how much pain you experience afterwards.
  • Treat your TMD/TMJ before any procedure. If you’re more susceptible to jaw pain, try giving your muscles some light stretching and more rest before you go into a dental procedure.
  • Ask for a bite block. To give your jaw muscles a break, you can request a bite block be used during your procedure to minimize muscle pain afterwards.
  • Deal with bruxism (grinding) issues before your procedure. Grinding your teeth is likely to trigger pain after dental work. Treating that ahead of time will go a long way in helping you have a quick recovery.
  • Deal with infection before having a cavity restored. Your doctor may give you antibiotics before having a root canal or dental filling. The less infection and smaller the abscess near a cavity, the less pain you’re likely to experience after having it fixed.
  • Ask for a break in the middle of a long procedure. If your mouth has to be opened wide for several hours, asking ahead of time for a break in the middle is one way to prevent extra jaw muscle pain.
  • Relax! Stress can cause a number of pain-inducing conditions like dental anxiety, muscle aches, and even some extra tooth grinding. Practice mindfulness and rest in the days leading up to your procedure. You might even try some CBD for dental anxiety if you know you’re nervous before your dental work. Using weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, or working with a therapy dog helps to provide some calm from the anxiety that many people feel before dental work.

Prevention is always your best tool for preventing tooth pain. In general, a large majority of dental work can be avoided by addressing dental health on a regular basis. 

To prevent dental problems that require restorative procedures:

  • Practice good oral hygiene. Use an electric toothbrush, a remineralizing toothpaste, and scrape your tongue at least twice every day. Never skip flossing. Good oral care is key to good oral health!
  • Eat a tooth-friendly diet. Foods can cause or prevent/reverse cavities. Focus on nutrient-dense foods with minimal processing, sugar, and acid content.
  • Don’t ignore signs of periodontal disease. Gum disease is incredibly common, especially after the age of 60. It’s associated with dozens of comorbid health conditions — don’t ignore it. Talk to your dentist about bleeding gums.
  • See your dentist every 6 months. Dental health care is a huge part of your overall health. Bi-yearly dental appointments are important because teeth cleanings and regular exams can prevent small problems before they become big.
  • Address sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB), like that seen in sleep apnea, is a problem for countless reasons — one of which is poor oral health. SDB is associated with bad breath, TMJ, and weakened tooth enamel, among other issues.

How to Relieve Pain After Dental Work

For pain relief after dental work:

  1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. A diet high in plant-based foods, essential fatty acids, high-antioxidant foods, and foods with plenty of trace minerals reduce all-body inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of most pain. Popular anti-inflammatory diets include the keto diet, Paleo diet, Mediterranean diet, or Whole30.
  2. Try a turmeric supplement. Turmeric is one of nature’s most potent natural pain relievers. Turmeric even outperforms some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used for pain and may treat postoperative pain. 
  3. Rest and ice your jaw. If TMJ pain is your biggest issue, do what you can to relax your jaw before and after the procedure. Use an ice pack to reduce swelling and calm muscle inflammation. Avoid having dental work performed at a dental school, as the procedures done there usually take longer.
  4. Try THC or CBD. Both major compounds in marijuana, THC and CBD, are powerful pain relieving agents
  5. Drink ice-cold coconut water. Coconut water can help to replenish electrolytes that you may lose during wisdom teeth removal recovery. Drinking it ice cold may reduce inflammation and soft tissue pain.
  6. Take an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is generally considered the best pain reliever for tooth pain. You may also try acetaminophen (Tylenol). I recommend patients follow the 3-3-3 method: 3 ibuprofen, 3 times a day, for 3 days after dental work.
  7. Take pain medications prescribed by your dentist. Opioids like Tylenol-3, Vicodin (Lortab; acetaminophen with hydrocodone), and Percocet (acetaminophen with oxycodone) may be used for dental pain. These are not prescribed as often as they used to be due to the opioid epidemic. Your dentist is unlikely to prescribe these pain medications except in extreme cases.

FAQs

Q: Should my teeth hurt after a cleaning?

A: Your teeth may be sore or sensitive after a cleaning. The longer it’s been since your last cleaning, the more likely it is you’ll have soreness.

If you’ve waited years to get a cleaning, your hygienist might need to do a full scaling and root planing to clear your teeth of plaque.

After that, your roots will be very clean — but they’ll be sensitive to cold for 1-2 weeks.

Very healthy teeth and gums that are regularly cleaned probably won’t hurt after a cleaning, although a bit of gum soreness for a day or two is normal.

Q: Is it normal to have tooth pain after a filling?

A: After a filling, some pain is normal. Usually, you’ll notice soreness around the tooth for 1-2 days. 

Metal fillings tend to cause pain more easily than plastic fillings, but plastics can cause pain in their own way, too.

There are two types of pain from a filling that would send you back to the dentist, though.

Aching and cold sensitivity around a filled tooth that lasts more than 3 days may be a sign of pulpitis. Pulpitis can be reversible or irreversible. The latter would, unfortunately, require a root canal or tooth extraction.

That’s why you should always get cavities filled once they’re small but have passed the point of reversal. The larger the cavity, the bigger your chance to develop pulpitis.

The second reason a filling could cause pain longer than a couple of days is a filling that’s too high. A tall filling may mess with your bite.

How do you know this has happened? You’d notice cold sensitivity and some aching about 2-3 days after getting the filling, and the pain would not get better over time.

Both of these reasons for tooth pain after a filling will send you back to the dentist for some type of correction.

Q: How do you know if you have an infection after dental work?

A: Infections after dental work may cause:

  • Fever
  • Bad breath
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Toothache or new hot/cold tooth sensitivity
  • Gum swelling
  • Swollen jaw
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes or neck

If you think you have developed an infection after dental work, talk to your dentist immediately.

7 References

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  2. Chrysohoou, C., Panagiotakos, D. B., Pitsavos, C., Das, U. N., & Stefanadis, C. (2004). Adherence to the Mediterranean diet attenuates inflammation and coagulation process in healthy adults: The ATTICA Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 44(1), 152-158. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21139128/ 
  3. Sun, J., Chen, F., Braun, C., Zhou, Y. Q., Rittner, H., Tian, Y. K., … & Ye, D. W. (2018). Role of curcumin in the management of pathological pain. Phytomedicine, 48, 129-140. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30195871/ 
  4. Takada, Y., Bhardwaj, A., Potdar, P., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2004). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-κB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene, 23(57), 9247. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15489888/ 
  5. Agarwal, K. A., Tripathi, C. D., Agarwal, B. B., & Saluja, S. (2011). Efficacy of turmeric (curcumin) in pain and postoperative fatigue after laparoscopic cholecystectomy: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study. Surgical endoscopy, 25(12), 3805-3810. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21671126/
  6. Mack, A., & Joy, J. (2000). MARIJUANA AND PAIN. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224384/ 
  7. Bailey, E., Worthington, H. V., van Wijk, A., Yates, J. M., Coulthard, P., & Afzal, Z. (2013). Ibuprofen and/or paracetamol (acetaminophen) for pain relief after surgical removal of lower wisdom teeth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (12). Full text: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004624.pub2/full