Sunday, June 17, 2012

Don Draper's Dental Disaster: When a Toothache Won't Go Away

               Have you ever had a tooth pain that comes and goes, and you debate whether you should call the dentist or not? Then one day the tooth pain comes again, but this time it doesn’t go away. It rages on and on until it gets your full attention. Such was the case in the recent season finale of Mad Men, when Don Draper had the return of a toothache that this time would not go away. He had been avoiding the call. The call he needed to make with the dentist. He said a few times that he thought it would get better, that it always did, but not this time. The pain went away only after he visited the dentist.

               Although Mad Men is a fictitious television show, the story of this toothache could have been very real. No one wants a dental emergency or a toothache. So how can you avoid an incident like Don Draper’s? How can you know the signs of a real dental problem that needs the immediate attention of a dentist?

               The best way to prevent a toothache is to handle dental problems early on when they are treatable. The two major reasons that a tooth needs attention are either decay  or periodontal (gum) problems. Many times these dental problems don’t bother you, don’t exhibit any symptoms, which can be misleading. Many times you can not see the problems either, which is why routine dental x-rays are valuable. A thorough exam can detect these problems and they can be treated before they turn into something larger.

               Decay at its start can be easily removed and treated with a filling or restoration. Sometimes sensitivity isn’t decay, but an exposed root surface, which can be treated with a brush-on desensitizing varnish that gives immediate relief.  

               But let’s say you are experiencing some discomfort now. Try to pay attention to the pain and see if you can answer the following questions: 1) the duration of the pain – when it hurts is it for a few seconds, a few minutes or longer,; 2) whether the pain starts on its own, or only when stimulated, and does it wake you while you are sleeping:; 3) what makes the tooth hurt – hot, cold, or biting; and 4) can you identify exactly which tooth it is? 5) Does anything make it feel better? Over the counter pain medications like Advil, or Tylenol, or does cold actually make it feel better?

               The signs that a tooth pain will not go away on its own, and you need the help of a dentist, are:       

1)      The pain lasts more than just a few minutes, or is even constant.

2)      The pain starts spontaneously, on its own

3)      The pain wakes you at night

4)      You can identify the tooth the is the culprit

5)      Cold things like ice make it feels better

               If you have an episode of pain like this, even for days, and you leave it untreated, it probably will subside, but it will return with a vengeance. Don’t ignore the symptoms. Get the treatment you need. I don’t like seeing patients in pain as much as you as a patient don’t like seeing The Dentist, so let’s help each other out. The more regularly you go for a routine dental check-up , the less likely you are to have a Don Draper incident.

               Don Draper ended up losing a tooth because he had constant pain, that was occurring unprovoked, and he did get some relief from applying cold ice to the area, but the tooth in his case was beyond the treatment of a filling or root canal treatment, had probably infected the bone surrounding it, and it’s only hope was extraction.  Let’s hope that this information helps you to avoid this!


  1. I thought of you when I saw this episode. I know you should never ignore pain and hold off treatment!

  2. Thanks for your great blog about tooth treatments.
    Tooth Pain Reliever