Tooth Pain and Sensitivity in Kids: When Do I Bring Them to the Dentist?

As a parent, it’s never easy to see your child in pain. You want to relieve their suffering fast — and figure out the problem in case you need to take them to a doctor.

When it comes to tooth pain and sensitive teeth in children, some discomfort can be normal, while some aren’t. And if your child is too young to explain exactly where it hurts or how it feels, it can be difficult to figure out why they’re hurting and what to do about it.

At Children’s Choice, we want to help you take care of your child’s teeth. Here’s how to understand why your kids may be experiencing tooth pain and sensitivity, how to treat it at home, and when to come in for care.

Tooth Sensitivity in Children

When it comes to kids, there’s plenty that puts their teeth at risk: playing sports, ineffective brushing and flossing techniques, and sugary food and drinks.

Tooth sensitivity in your child could include sharp pain, a dull ache, or tingling in their teeth. If they complain about tooth pain or sensitivity, ask them to point out where it’s coming from as accurately as they can.

How to Prevent and Treat Sensitive Teeth in Children

There are some sensitive teeth treatments you can do at home when symptoms are mild.

Establish a healthy dental routine

  • Make sure your child is doing a thorough job of brushing and flossing.
  • Be sure they’re getting all the way around the back of their back teeth and behind their bottom teeth.
  • Replace your child’s toothbrush at least every three months.
  • Feed your child healthy foods that keep their teeth strong and limit excess sugar.

Try sensitive teeth toothpaste for kids

  • Sensitive teeth toothpaste doesn’t solve underlying causes of tooth sensitivity, but it can help relieve recurring pain.
  • Sensitive teeth toothpaste — or desensitizing toothpaste — blocks the pain signals that communicate pain.

Tooth sealants for kids

  • Sealants are thin, protective coatings that adhere to the chewing surface of your child’s teeth.
  • Sealants temporarily fill in grooves, preventing decay that can lead to cavities.
  • Research has shown that sealants may reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars.
  • Children without sealants have nearly three times more cavities than kids with sealants.

Fluoride for kids

  • Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens your child’s tooth enamel.
  • Fluoride can prevent cavities, reverse tooth decay, and protect your child’s teeth.
  • Use a toothpaste with fluoride and ask us about other ways to incorporate fluoride into your child’s dental care during your visit.

Cold compress for tooth sensitivity or pain

  • Apply a cold compress to your child’s cheek near the ache for 20 minutes.
  • Repeat as needed.

If your child’s pain persists or gets worse, it might be time to bring them to the dentist. Here are some of the reasons your child might be experiencing tooth sensitivity.

Incoming Teeth

New baby teeth, adult teeth, and wisdom teeth can all cause pain and discomfort. It might feel like a dull ache or the feeling of pressure.

Infants’ teeth start emerging from six months to a year. They’ll likely continue coming in until age three.

And after your child loses their baby teeth, their permanent teeth grow in. This usually starts around age six with your child’s permanent molars coming first. Their adult teeth can continue growing into their teens.

Around 17 to 25 years old, third molars — or wisdom teeth — typically emerge.

For infants and other young children who can’t describe their pain, you might notice fussiness, difficulty sleeping, grumpy moods, less appetite, or more drooling than normal.

If it seems like your child is in pain because of incoming teeth, there’s usually no reason for alarm — especially if your dentist has recently given them an exam and reassured you everything looks normal.

But if your child has more severe symptoms — including fever, rash, diarrhea, or inconsolable pain, this might be a clue that something more serious is going on.

What to do for incoming teeth: 

  • Manage pain with a cold compress.
  • For babies, offer them a teether — especially one kept in the fridge or freezer.
  • Gently massage their gums.
  • Give over-the-counter pain medication sparingly.
  • For wisdom teeth, make an appointment with their dentist.

What not to do for incoming teeth:

  • Don’t give your child teethers made from potentially harmful materials — be sure the teethers you provide are intended for teething.
  • Be cautious about using benzocaine products — the FDA suggests avoiding this for children two years or younger and recommends caution for children older than two.

If the pain continues, make an appointment with us to see a pediatric dentist. Your child might have teeth coming in that are misaligning other teeth and causing pain, or they might have an infection. At your appointment, we’ll figure out what’s going on and take great care of your child’s teeth.

Cavities

When your child eats or drinks food with sugar, plaque can form on their teeth. If it isn’t removed with brushing, flossing, water, or saliva, this plaque can build up and break down tooth enamel — the hard outer layer of your child’s tooth.

This can cause tooth decay, which eventually may develop into a hole in the tooth known as a cavity.

Pain from a cavity can vary. Pain from a cavity might feel like stinging or burning in one area, especially when chewing hard foods.

Some children don’t feel anything and other pain can be excruciating. Your child might complain that their tooth hurts when brushing, or when eating or drinking cold or hot foods.

Cavities that cause intense pain may have gone deep enough to damage the nerve in the tooth. It’s important to deal with cavities as soon as possible. If left untreated, they can allow bacteria into the gums or even the bone underneath the tooth, causing pain, infection, or a tooth abscess.

If you think your child might have a cavity, ask to see inside their mouth. Sometimes cavities discolor teeth, making them black, gray, or brown. If you see that, or if you’re not sure, it’s time to make a dentist appointment.

Enamel Erosion

Enamel erosion occurs when acids wear away at tooth enamel. Once that protective coating is weakened, the nerves in your child’s teeth are more easily exposed.

Common causes of enamel erosion:

  • Soft drinks: Phosphoric and citric acids wear down tooth enamel
  • Sugary food and drinks: Sugar collects on teeth and forms plaque, which eats away at the enamel
  • Chronic dry mouth or low saliva flow: Saliva washes away foods so plaque doesn’t form. Without it, plaque is more likely to build-up
  • Acid reflux or heartburn: Acid from the stomach is corrosive and can wear the enamel away
  • Frequent vomiting: Stomach acid wears away at tooth enamel during vomiting

If you think your child might be experiencing enamel erosion, bring them in to see us. While enamel erosion can’t be reversed, we can treat it with a crown or veneer to protect against further decay.

Cracked Tooth or Cracked Filling

A cracked tooth or filling can be extremely painful and might cause cold-sensitive teeth for your child.

Pain from a cracked tooth occurs because the nerve in the tooth is exposed and can become irritated. If your child has a cracked tooth or cracked filling, the pain comes and goes, making it hard to identify exactly where it’s coming from.

This can only be treated with a visit to your pediatric dentist, and it’s important to go early. We can place a crown on top to prevent further damage. If the crack is treated too late, we might need to perform a root canal to treat the infected tissue and try to save the tooth.

If your child has pain and you can see a crack in the tooth, have them bite down on a clean cloth until you reach our office.

Sinus Infection

Your child’s tooth pain could actually be a symptom of a sinus infection. A sinus infection occurs when the tissue in your child’s sinuses becomes inflamed. That inflammation can extend to the back upper teeth, especially the top ones.

In addition to tooth pain, your child might have a runny nose, congestion, a headache, facial pain or pressure, a drip in the back of their throat, sore throat, a cough, or bad breath.

You can manage a sinus infection with over-the-counter medications, but if symptoms last and your child has a fever for longer than three days, bring them in to see a doctor. If their tooth pain doesn’t resolve once the sinus infection clears, bring them in to see us.

Prevention is the Best Cure for Tooth Sensitivity  

The best way to keep your child’s teeth in great shape is with regular visits and cleanings. Bring them in to our office at least twice a year for a cleaning and to monitor the health of their teeth.

With regular cleanings and preventative measures, we can help your child avoid gum disease and tooth decay.

If your child is experiencing ongoing tooth sensitivity or pain, it’s a good idea to bring them in to have our award-winning dentists take a look. As pediatric dentists, we work with kids all day long. We’re pros at making your child feel comfortable at the dentist.

Schedule an appointment for your child’s next dental exam >