Footballer Rio Ferdinand
Footballer Rio Ferdinand

A dentist talks about the causes of and treatments for toothache – the condition which caused Rio Ferdinand so much trouble lately. It seems like the England football star could have used a more effective means of defending himself from the pain…

Earlier this month, Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand issued some anguished tweets about being bedevilled by severe tooth pain.

On August 30th his concerned followers were told that the former England captain was “en route to the dentist… not looking forward to this at all. Tooth ache is not a joke, paracetamol didn’t ease the pain”.

Such was the former West Ham player’s discomfort that he felt compelled to “use pliers or a hammer to get it [the toothache] out myself”.

Putney dentist Ethicare treats many patients who are suffering from toothache; a condition which can be caused by:

  • Receding gums
  • Dental decay
  • A cracked tooth
  • An abscess caused by infection

But Ferdinand’s toothache was in fact caused by another factor… the emergence of two wisdom teeth.

A sore jaw and numb tongue was the price the international paid for the unwanted new teeth’s extraction but it could have been worse; untreated toothache can lead to dental abscesses and blood poisoning.

I asked dentist Dr Glafcos Tombolis, who runs London dental practice Ethicare, about ways of identifying and treating toothache.

Question: What do you say to a patient who reports experiencing toothache?

Dr Glafcos Tombolis: I would be keen to evaluate how long they have been suffering the pain, the intensity of discomfort and the area of the mouth in which the pain occurs. It is always useful to our diagnosis to try and establish whether there is a particular time of day a patient generally feels pain and if there is anything, such as eating or over-brushing, which triggers the pain.   Reporting toothache as soon as possible is vital; early treatment can take the form of simple preventive work. Leave it too late and it might necessitate root canal treatment.

Q: What is the best way of alleviating the pain before you visit the dentist? Rio Ferdinand tried Paracetamol but complained that this wasn’t effective.

GT: Rio would have been better off trying Nurofen (ibuprofen) for more effective pain relief.

Q: Is it best to avoid hot and cold food if you are suffering from toothache?

GT: Avoiding hot and cold food can help if the toothache is caused by something such as a large area of decay. If the toothache is caused by the emergence of a wisdom tooth it shouldn’t make much of a difference.

Q: What is the most common cause of toothache?

GT: The sensitivity which can cause toothache often results from gums receding, decay or abscesses. Worryingly, early decay doesn’t tend to cause pain – a good reason to have regular check-ups.

Q: How often is toothache caused, as in Rio’s case, by a wisdom tooth?

GT: This can be quite common. When a wisdom tooth emerges, food and bacteria can often get caught under the gum which covers the wisdom tooth – the decay and gum disease resulting this from cause pain.

Q: So Rio was right to have the wisdom teeth removed?

GT: Every case is different. You should only have a wisdom tooth removed if there is a good reason. If there is just one episode of infection involving a wisdom tooth it might well be best not to remove it. If there are recurrent infections, or decay in the wisdom tooth or adjacent teeth, there is more justification for removal.

Luckily, there has been a happy conclusion to Rio’s tale of toothache as he made a speedy return to the Manchester United training pitch and, judging by his tweets, the pain has cleared up well enough for him to start dining in fine restaurants once more.

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