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Dealing with the Pain

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A root canal refers to damaged tissues in the tooth. If you suspect this is the issue, "keep cold and sweets away from the painful area," Howley says. "If you do this, the pain will typically go away, but if you also have sensitivity to heat, it's an indication of more serious problem." For example, "if you drink coffee and the tooth hurts even after stimulus is gone, this tends to indicate a problem with a nerve or that the tooth is dying or traumatized and you need to do something about it," he says. "It may be a simple as an antibiotic and Motrin, and sometimes it's as simple as keeping hot, sweet, and cold away until you can have it looked at by a dentist."

If you can't quite put your finger on the pain (literally or figuratively), go through a mental checklist to identify the culprit. "Is it a missing filling? A broken tooth? If so, you could try aspirin or ibuprofen. Is it gum related? If so, topical ointments may work," Howley says.

Make Your Own Dental Bag

While it's hard to plan for dental mishaps, it's a good idea to pack a small just-in-case bag replete with some tooth repair basics. It should contain:

* Salt packets * Gauze * Q-tips (in case you want to swab the area) * Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory painkiller * A small container (if you lose a crown or piece) * A phone number of a dentist * A pack of sugar-free gum

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