Pain After a Dental Visit: What’s normal, and what’s not

When you have a dental procedure done, there are a few different reasons you might hurt afterwards. While not all dental work hurts, there are some normal reasons to have pain after a dental visit. Let’s look at what you should expect—and when you may need to go back to the dentist for a follow-up.

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The number one reason people put off going to the dentist is a fear of pain. It’s true that many types of dental work can leave you with pain afterwards. But some pain after a dental visit is to be expected, while other types of pain after dental work may require some 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.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly what to expect with regard to pain after a dental visit, as well as how to tell what’s normal and what’s not.

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How Long Does Pain Last After Dental Visits?

Your pain symptoms should eventually go away. If they persist or worsen, talk to your dentist.

Most of the pain mentioned below should lessen with time. If not, seeking the advice of your dentist is highly recommended.

However, you should be aware that if you are a teeth grinder, you have muscles that are already fatigued and damaged from overuse. This makes them much more prone to conditions like trismus and muscle fatigue, and making the healing process longer.

I see teeth grinders get these painful conditions much more frequently.

Discuss this with your dentist if you think you may have this problem. They can provide you with great options for reducing or preventing teeth grinding. Reducing grinding will improve your overall oral health and lessen your likelihood of pain following dental procedures.

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

For some procedures, the pain should abate in 1-2 days. For others, like wisdom tooth surgery, pain may last a couple of weeks.

In addition, understanding what kind of pain you should expect will give you the knowledge you need to recognize anything out of the ordinary.

Will it feel stabbing? Should I expect a sore mouth? Will my mouth be sensitive to hot or cold? Should it 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.

S/he may also decide that you simply need a stronger medication for the pain temporarily.

Common Types of Pain After Dental Visits

Here are the most common types of pain you might feel after a trip to the dentist. The most common is first, with the less common types appearing further down the list.

1. Jaw Muscle Fatigue

What it is: One very common reason for pain following dental visits is the jaw being open for so long. People that grind their teeth a lot are more susceptible to this condition.

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

How it happens:

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.

You can ask for a bite block, 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. Your dentist may suggest one to lessen the strain on your muscles.

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:

Even a simple filling can cause pulpitis, in which a tooth becomes very cold- and/or heat-sensitive.

It can start aching spontaneously—pulpitis basically feels like a toothache. In fact, pulpitis occurring without a dental procedure is one sign you may need a root canal in an infected tooth.

How it happens: In pulpitis, the tooth has been aggressively prepped and ground or drilled on. It might lead to symptoms like the ones that sent you to the dentist if the pulp of the tooth becomes inflamed.

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 dental caries (cavity) are deeper and more aggressive 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.

What to do about it: There are two types of pulpitis: reversible pulpitis, which can be corrected, and irreversible pulpitis, which usually doesn’t heal on its own and will require a root canal.

If you have reversible pulpitis, you probably don’t feel pain unless something actually touches your affected tooth.

With pain in a specific tooth several days after a dental procedure, you need to go back to the dentist. Neither type of pulpitis is likely to go away on its own.

3. Referred Myofascial Pain

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

What it feels like:

Referred myofascial 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.

What to do about 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.

4. Dry Socket Pain

What it is: Dry socket is bone pain that results from loss of the protective blood clot in a socket after tooth extraction.

What it feels like: The pain receptors in bone are very sensitive. This pain after dental visits is usually associated with having teeth pulled or extracted surgically (like after wisdom teeth removal).

With a dry socket, you’ll feel radiating, moderate-to-severe pain in the area of bone underneath the empty socket.

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:

It commonly begins about two to three days after your tooth is removed and happens when the blood clot protecting the bone falls out of the tooth.

Ever been told by the dentist not to use a straw after getting a tooth pulled? The action of sucking through a straw greatly increases your chances of losing the protective blood clot on your exposed bone.

What to do about it: Dry socket that happens in the first one or two days after extraction will probably need to be corrected by your dentist or oral surgeon. Most of the time, s/he 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 on days three or four, 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.

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, and to heat.

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.

The tongue is very sensitive and takes a while to heal.

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. Burning yourself with hot foods 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.

What to do about it: Listen to your dentist, and be very cautious eating after dental work where your mouth and tongue to be numbed.

Treating pain from soft tissue injury usually involves treating it with clove oil or another pain-relieving topical agent. It should clear up on its own, although there is the possibility of it opening your body up to infection.

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

6. Implant Pain

What it is: When you get a tooth 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.

What to do about 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.

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:

There may be a lot of generalized pain throughout the mouth after this type of surgery, but it’s a normal part of healing.

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.

What to do about it: Unfortunately, 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.

8. Trismus

What it is: Another pain-causing condition which may follow a dental procedure is trismus. This 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 two to three days following the procedure or injection, it’s possible to get a stiffening of the muscle, making it hard to open.

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.

What to do about it: Trismus is a condition your dentist should help you treat. S/he may prescribe a soft foods diet, physical therapy or massage, a jaw-stretching device, and/or muscle relaxers and pain relieving medication.

How to Prevent Pain After a Dental Visit

Prevention is always your best tool for preventing tooth pain.

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.

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.

The real reason you grind your teeth is likely because you have interrupted sleep breathing (sleep apnea), and there are a number of ways to handle sleep apnea.

I don’t prescribe night guards for bruxism anymore, but you may want to use one temporarily after your dental work to help reduce additional damage from grinding.

Deal with infection before having a cavity restored. Your doctor may give you antibiotics before having a root canal or filling. The less infection and smaller the abscess near a cavity, the less pain you’re likely to experience after having it fixed.

Trying to avoid antibiotic resistance? You can try natural antibiotics like oregano oil—just be sure to put only 2-3 drops in a capsule. Oregano shouldn’t be used in the mouth directly and will burn if directly applied to the skin of the mouth or face.

Find out if you can have 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 anxiety, muscle aches, and even some extra tooth grinding.

While walking into a dental procedure can be somewhat intimidating, I encourage you to 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.

The more rested you are beforehand, the better chance you give your mouth to experience minimal pain and recovery time.

I’ve found that using weighted blankets and noise-canceling headphones helps to provide some calm from the anxiety that many people feel before dental work.

How to Relieve Pain After Dental Work

No matter how much prevention you practice, you can’t actually prevent all pain after a medical procedure, like the dental work you’re having performed.

Fortunately, there are several safe methods for preventing all sorts of pain after dental work.

Some of these are home remedies, but others include treatments including medication to buy over-the-counter (or medications your dentist, endodontist, or orthodontist might prescribe).

1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

Ultimately, inflammation throughout the body is impacted by your diet. Before and after any dental procedure, focus on foods that promote lower levels of inflammation. This is one of the best ways to make sure you don’t experience unnecessary pain.

After your procedure, the same applies—the less inflammation you have throughout your body, the more natural pain relief you’ll experience.

Plant-based foods, essential fatty acids, high-antioxidant foods, and foods with plenty of trace minerals all support reduced all-body inflammation. (1, 2)

Plus, many of these foods are great for proper dental health and preventing and healing cavities naturally!

Good anti-inflammatory diet plans include things like the Paleo, keto, and Mediterranean diets.

2. Try a turmeric supplement.

Turmeric is one of nature’s most potent natural pain relievers. Research has found that turmeric even outperforms some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used for pain! (3)

It’s also used effectively by some people to treat typical post-operative pain. (4)

Using turmeric in your recipes is great, but the best way to get the most of turmeric’s active compound, curcumin, is by using a supplement that contains some type of “heat” ingredient (like black pepper).

You can also use it alongside hot peppers in recipes—add a healthy fat, like olive oil, for maximum absorption. (5, 6)

3. Minimize the effects of TMD/TMJ.

If you struggle with TMD/TMJ and have trouble keeping your jaw open without muscle aching, you can treat it with a number of natural methods at home.

  • Rest your jaw by eating soft food avoiding crunchy or chewy foods
  • Apply ice, then heat to reduce inflammation of the jaw muscles (but never use heat on a side of your mouth that has wisdom teeth extracted)
  • Exercise your jaw prior to your dental work that may stretch and relax the muscles

You may want to avoid having dental work performed at a dental school if you are at risk for this type of jaw pain after filling or other procedure.

Dental students often take much longer to perform procedures than experienced professionals. It may be a great way to save money, but possibly not worth it.

4. Breathe through your nose.

A dry mouth can cause worsened pain after dental visits (and a lot of other issues).

The basic cause of dry mouth is mouth breathing, as your body was designed to get all the oxygen it needs through your nose.

During the days following dental work (and, really, always!), aim to breathe through your mouth unless you’re stuffed up from allergies or other sinus issues.

At night, you can mouth tape for better sleep and less dry mouth overnight. I recommend using tape designed for this, like Somnifix.

5. Try THC or CBD treatment, depending on what’s legal in your area.

Both major compounds in marijuana, THC and CBD, are powerful pain relieving agents. (7) While THC also causes psychological changes, it is typically more potent for pain in most studies.

However, if THC isn’t available or legal where you live, you can also try CBD or cannabis oil.

CBD benefits are numerous, as your body has CBD receptors on every single cell, but in general, it can help to ease pain after dental visits.

It’s also helpful for treating minor anxiety, which is a common side effect or concern before dental procedures.

6. Drink coconut water.

Coconut water can help to balance electrolytes. It can provide useful nutrition while you’re recovering from a dental procedure, especially before you’re allowed to eat.

I recommend drinking it ice-cold, since the ice acts to numb the area as well.

Getting proper nutrition will help you recover faster and is a useful aid to prevent additional pain after dental visits.

7. Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory.

It may sound over-simplified, but a quick and easy way to deal with inflammation and pain after dental work is by taking ibuprofen (Advil).

For adults, a dose of 800 milligrams taken every four hours or more is typically an appropriate prescription dosage for the few days following dental work. *As this is prescription-strength, discuss it with your practitioner before using this dosage.

Don’t take it for more than 4-5 days at a time, as ibuprofen can be problematic when used at that high of a dose for long periods of time.

Your dentist may also suggest acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin (Bayer) as another option for over-the-counter medication.

8. Take painkillers prescribed by your dentist.

For more intense procedures, your dentist, endodontist, or orthodontist may prescribe you more hardcore medications. Common examples of these may be:

  • Tylenol-3 (acetaminophen with codeine)
  • Vicodin (lortabs, or acetaminophen with hydrocodone)
  • Percocet (acetaminophen with oxycodone)

These opioids can make a massive dent in pain after dental work, but they are often substances that are easily abused. You should only use these when absolutely necessary and follow the instructions for dosage without going over.

Don’t ever borrow a friend’s prescription. Tell your dentist if you’ve struggled with drug misuse or abuse in the past before filling a prescription for one of these.

Strong pain medications also come with a longer list of side effects than over the counter options. Be sure to use them sparingly and pay attention to any strange or new symptoms you develop.

Since these drugs are likely to weaken your sense of reason, make sure that you’re not alone while taking them. You might feel totally great while taking a heavy-duty narcotic, but taking on too much physical activity or acting without common sense can result in other kinds of pain.

For example, strenuous activity shortly after a dental procedure can lead to dry socket.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pain After Dental Visits

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: Filling pain differs from case to case, because it depends on the depth of the filling and the material used for it.

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

For a couple of days after a filling, it’s normal to have some soreness around the tooth. There are two types of pain from a filling that would send you back to the dentist, though.

First, if you have aching and cold sensitivity around a filled tooth that lasts more than three days, you may have pulpitis. As I said before, pulpitis can be reversible or irreversible. The latter would, unfortunately, require a root canal.

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.

Final Thoughts

Every dentist wants your visits to their office to be as anxiety- and pain-free as possible. However, the extent of work needing to be performed and your susceptibility to certain conditions matter. These play a significant role in the amount of pain you may experience following a dental procedure.

The most common types of pain after dental work include:

  1. Pulpitis—inflammation of the pulp
  2. Trismus—spasm of the jaw muscles
  3. Jaw muscle pain—sore jaw muscles from strain
  4. Referred myofascial pain—nerve injury or irritation that refers to a different area of the mouth, face, or head
  5. Dry socket—pain of the exposed bone after the protective blood clot falls out of the socket
  6. Implant or gum graft surgery pain—normal pain during recovery caused by unusual trauma during a surgical procedure
  7. Soft tissue injury—pain resulting from any damage or irritation to the soft tissues of the mouth, like the gum or tongue

There are risks involved in any dental procedure. Most often the risks can be minimized or accounted for, providing you a relatively pain-free recovery time.

Take the time to inform your dentist if you need to take a break during a particularly difficult or long procedure. That’s one way you can assist in this process.

Discussing options for alleviating tooth grinding with your dentist will also help you with future dental procedures.

Teeth grinders are much more susceptible to many of these common causes of tooth pain following dental procedures. The muscles of their jaw as well as the teeth themselves are being traumatized on an ongoing basis.

To minimize your pain before dental work, try:

  • Eating anti-inflammatory foods
  • Treating TMD/TMJ before you undergo a procedure
  • Asking for a bite block and/or a break in the midst of a long procedure
  • Dealing with your grinding issues before you have dental work done
  • Relaxing before your procedure to reduce anxiety and muscle tension

Ultimately, not all pain after dental work is preventable. However, you can get pain relief by using some of these tips.

  1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
  2. Try a turmeric supplement
  3. Minimize the effects of TMD/TMJ
  4. Breathe through your nose
  5. Try THC or CBD treatment
  6. Drink coconut water
  7. Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory
  8. Take prescription painkillers

I know that dental work can be a scary experience. However, my goal is that you now feel more equipped to prevent or treat any pain you may experience. Pain after dental work is typically not overwhelming and doesn’t last a very long time—I hope that holds true for you!

Read Next: The Complete Guide to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD, TMJ)

References

  1. Watzl, B. (2008). Anti-inflammatory effects of plant-based foods and of their constituents. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research, 78(6), 293-298. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19685439
  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://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21139128
  3. 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://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15489888
  4. 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://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00464-011-1793-z
  5. Srinivasan, K. (2007). Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: a review of diverse physiological effects. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 47(8), 735-748. Abstract: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408390601062054
  6. Jäger, R., Lowery, R. P., Calvanese, A. V., Joy, J. M., Purpura, M., & Wilson, J. M. (2014). Comparative absorption of curcumin formulations. Nutrition journal, 13(1), 11. Full text: https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-13-11
  7. Mack, A., & Joy, J. (2000). MARIJUANA AND PAIN. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224384/

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