Toothache can make us miserable at any time, but by adopting the single best sleep position for toothache, you can at least prevent that pain from keeping you up all night.
In this guide, we’ll not only show you exactly what that position is, but also help you to understand why your tooth pain may be worse at night. More importantly, we will tell you what you can do to get the good night’s rest you need and deserve.
Why Does Tooth Ache Feel Worse at Night?
Toothache is caused by damage or irritation to the nerves at the root of a tooth or the surrounding gum line area.
Most commonly, this is caused by tooth decay, though infections, tooth loss, injury, and even trapped food can all be the reasons why your teeth and gums are causing such misery.
Whatever the case may be for you, there’s no denying that, no matter the level of intensity, a toothache can have a significant detrimental impact on your day-to-day quality of life.
That’s bad enough, but when that same pain starts to have just as much impact on your quality of sleep and keeps you from enjoying uninterrupted sleep, it’s even worse.
After all, that same sleep quality will make a significant difference to how quickly and effectively we recover from our toothache in the first place.
Getting enough hours of quality, restorative sleep, helps our body to fight infections, recover from injury, and generally feel much better.
So why is it that our teeth cause us the most pain at the one time we need them to hurt the least?
The most common explanations are as follows:
1. Increased Blood Circulation
The simplest explanation as to why toothache hurts worse at night is that lying down increases blood flow to the head.
When there’s more blood rushing to the head, it can put extra pressure on the affected area, resulting in more pain.
2. Fewer Distractions
There’s sufficient evidence to support the idea that keeping ourselves busy and mentally occupied can distract us from pain.
As such, it may not be the case that our level of pain is worse at night, only that it feels worse because we don’t have all those daytime activities to distract us from it.
In other words, when we’re lying in bed doing nothing but trying to rest, we’re simply more aware of our toothache than we were earlier in the day when work and other tasks took up most of our focus and attention.
3. Teeth Grinding
If your pain is worse when you first wake up, this may be because you’ve been grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw during the night.
This problem, known as Sleep Bruxism (SB), is said to affect some 8.6% of the general population, with one study finding that it caused sleep disturbance problems for over 47% of people who grind their teeth.
That’s not to say that grinding your teeth won’t cause pain at night either.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most common parts of the body affected by SB.
When the muscles in and around this area become stiff and tight, it not only hurts the jaw itself but also rubs against pain-inducing trigger points around the teeth.
With that being said, it’s worth pointing out that the strong link between sleep bruxism and TMJ disorders may mean contrary to your notion of simply a standard toothache: it may be a sign of a more serious condition affecting the jaw area.
This is why it’s always a good idea to consult a dental professional to determine the true cause of your pain.
4. Late Night Snacking
Last but not least, it’s important to consider how much the food we eat can contribute to our toothache pain.
Sugary drinks and snacks are a major cause of tooth decay which, as we’ve already established, is one of the main reasons why we suffer from toothache.
If our teeth are already decaying or infected, they could be especially sensitive to certain foods and beverages, especially cold foods such as ice cream and chilled beverages like soda or beer.
Consuming those kinds of snacks before bed can trigger the pain receptors in those areas, causing us to wake up multiple times in the night with sore teeth.
On a related note, getting small pieces of food such as specks of meat, fruit seeds, and nuts stuck in our teeth can put pressure on the root nerves and cause a pain flare-up.
The Best Sleep Position to Relieve Your Toothache
Whatever may be causing the problem, the absolute best sleep position to relieve your toothache is to sleep on your back and elevate your head with pillows.
As we established earlier, lying down causes blood to rush to the head and put pressure on our teeth.
Sleeping upright using a pillow to support your back and a second to prop up your head lessens that blood flow and thus lessens the pain.
What’s more, while we normally recommend lying on your side as one of the all-around best sleep positions, doing so with a toothache means that the weight of our head ends up exerting added pressure on the painful area.
If you absolutely can’t sleep on your back with your head elevated and can only get comfortable on your side, be sure to sleep on the side that’s least affected by tooth pain with a higher-than-average pillow to raise your head from the mattress.
The Best Way to Sleep For Toothache Relief: Dos and Don’ts
Sleeping with your head elevated is one of the best ways to relieve night time toothache, but if your pain is particularly persistent or intense, it may not be enough to help you enjoy the kind of optimum sleep quality you need to heal and recover.
It that’s the case for you, you may find the following suggestions helpful:
Do: Maintain a Nightly Oral Hygiene Routine
Though it may sound obvious to some, the best way to prevent toothache in the first place and prevent an existing toothache from getting worse at night is to take good care of your teeth and gums before bed.
Taking a few minutes to brush your teeth, floss, and use mouthwash can help remove any sugar and lingering food debris from your teeth, as well helping to stave off infection and decay.
Don’t: Smoke or Drink Alcohol
There are countless reasons why smoking cigarettes is bad for your health, yet while most of us think of common smoking-related problems such as cancer and heart disease, it’s worth considering the impact smoking has on your teeth.
Studies show us that smokers are at a much greater risk of developing oral pain, while smoking also exacerbates existing pain and tooth sensitivity.
The good news is that stopping smoking can have the opposite effect and help to reduce pain.
With that in mind, if you’re currently smoking, now is a perfect time to think about quitting.
Meanwhile, although there’s little correlation between alcohol and dental pain, it can harm your ability to get the quality sleep you need to heal that pain in the first place.
So, while that nightcap may help to temporarily numb that pain in the short term, in the long run, it’s only prolonging your misery: meaning it’s best to leave the alcohol alone until your toothache is gone.
Do: Ask Your Doctor About Medicated Mouthwash
While a dash of whiskey isn’t the most helpful thing in the world to consume (in fact, it tops our list of the most important things to avoid before bed), the right mouthwash could make all the difference.
If the standard off-the-shelf mouthwash isn’t cutting it, talk to your doctor or dental professional about prescribing medicated mouthwash such as Chlorhexidine (Peridex).
Chlorhexidine is an antibacterial mouthwash that can help to alleviate infections and may be one of the most helpful things you can add to your nightly oral hygiene tool kit.
On a similar note, your medical professional may also be able to prescribe numbing creams and other treatments to prevent your tooth pain from keeping you up at night.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleeping With Toothache
How can I sleep with an unbearable toothache?
If your toothache is too intense to handle, try over-the-counter painkillers and a cold compress, then be sure to contact your dentist first thing in the morning.
Does lying down make a toothache worse?
It certainly can do. Lying down places extra pressure on the affected area, which can cause more pain. This is why we recommend sleeping with your head elevated to reduce that pressure.
Does sleep help toothache?
Yes. As long as you’re able to lie comfortably, getting sufficient sleep helps your body to combat infection, reduce inflammation, and can even heal the pain.
The Best Way to Sleep For Toothache Relief: A Final Word of Advice
Throughout this guide, we strived to arm you with all the information you could possibly need to enjoy a solid night’s rest, even if toothache normally keeps you up at night.
You now know that sleeping with your head elevated is the best sleep position for toothache relief. You know that avoiding certain food and drinks before bed and taking good care of your oral hygiene can help prevent that toothache in the first place, and you also know that, in some cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe something more effective than the kind of dental products you get off the shelf at the local pharmacy.
If we could only ask you to take one thing away from this guide, that last point would be it.
While a toothache is the kind of thing many of us try and grin and bear through, it can be a sign of a much more serious problem. Hence, it’s always worth talking to a professional if your pain is lasting a long time or is too intense to cope with.
On a final note, it’s also worth noting that teeth grinding -a common cause of toothache and jaw pain- is often associated with stress.
So, if you feel like that could be a factor for you, be sure to take some time to relax before bed, whether that’s by learning to meditate, taking a bath, or anything else.
For more tips and advice on this, see our complete guide on how to sleep when stressed.