What Your Toothache Is Telling You and What To Do About It

Common causes of tooth pain

Toothache: What It Means

Maybe you woke up with throbbing tooth pain, or you were enjoying a meal before a sudden, sharp pain left you wincing. Now you have a nagging toothache, and you’re not sure what to do.

A toothache can quickly turn a great day into a terrible one, and many describe it as one of the worst types of pain. As bad as a toothache feels, there is some good news. Your body is trying to tell you that there’s a problem and it’s time to see your dentist.

8 of the Most Common Causes of a Toothache

Failed Dental Work

Dental fillings, crowns, bridges, and other forms of restorative and cosmetic dental work can last for years with proper care, but eventually they do wear down. Fillings can come out completely, while other restorations may become loosened or damaged. This often results in tooth sensitivity or pain.

Active Infection or Abscess

Some of the most debilitating tooth pain is caused by an infection or abscess. An abscessed tooth is a serious situation. Abscesses are trapped infections that have formed a pocket of pus and other bacteria. This infection can leach into your bloodstream and even cause sepsis. Tooth abscesses can not only cause pain but also fever, swelling, chills, and other symptoms.

Gum Disease or Recession

Tooth pain can also include pain around the teeth. Advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, can leave gums inflamed, infected, and incredibly painful. Untreated gum disease can lead to gum recession, tooth root exposure, and enamel damage. Periodontitis can advance rapidly, so don’t hesitate to see your dentist.

TMJD and Bruxism

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJD) impact your jaw but can easily cause a terrible toothache. Bruxism (teeth grinding) and jaw clenching are very common symptoms of TMJD. Both wear down tooth enamel and can even cause cracking. Bruxism may happen on its own as a result of stress, bite misalignment, or simple habit. TMJD and bruxism often cause headaches and jaw pain as well.

Impacted Wisdom Teeth

If you haven’t had your wisdom teeth removed and you’re suddenly feeling a dull pain in the back of your mouth, your wisdom teeth may be to blame. Wisdom teeth are often trapped below the gum (impacted), which is why dentists recommend having them removed. As the teeth try to erupt, they often don’t have enough room and push into your other molars. This can cause localized gum tenderness, dull aches, headaches, and infection.

Sinus Toothache

Did you know that sinusitis can cause a toothache? Inflamed or infected sinuses can cause pain and nagging pressure, most often around the upper molars. Your teeth may actually be perfectly healthy, but the sinus pressure makes you feel discomfort near your teeth. Your doctor will be able to treat your sinusitis, but it’s also a good idea to visit your dentist to double-check that your teeth are indeed healthy and nothing else is going on.

Untreated Tooth Decay

The most common toothache trigger is untreated tooth decay. Bad bacteria feed off of sugars and starches, producing waste in the form of enamel-eating acids. These acids wear away enamel and expose the tender dentin layer underneath. Once a cavity forms, it doesn’t stop growing. The sooner you seek treatment, the less involved your needed restoration will be.

Broken or Chipped Tooth

Injury to the face or simply biting down on a popcorn kernel can chip or crack a tooth. A broken tooth can be incredibly painful, especially when biting down while eating or speaking. However, even a superficially chipped tooth should be seen by your dentist before further damage occurs.

Toothaches always require a dental visit.

While a twisted ankle or strained muscle can often heal with some rest and relaxation, the vast majority of oral health pain can’t be remedied so easily. Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body—stronger than bone—but once tooth enamel is damaged, it can’t simply regrow. So when pain strikes, it means damage has already been done.

If you’re experiencing any sort of tooth, mouth, or jaw pain, the first thing you should do is call a dentist to schedule an appointment. Even if your toothache is minor, it’s important to book a visit sooner rather than later. In cases of a very painful tooth, many dental offices, including Staley Dental, will try to work you in the same day for an emergency visit.

Should I go to the ER for a toothache?

You may also be wondering if your toothache is reason enough to visit the ER. In most cases the answer is no.

If your toothache strikes when your dental office is closed, take some over-the-counter pain relievers, apply topical tooth pain ointment, and see if that keeps you comfortable until dental offices reopen.

However, you should visit the ER if you’re experiencing severe pain coupled with gum or facial swelling and fever. These symptoms often point to an abscess. The ER will offer pain relief and likely start you on a course of antibiotics to curb the infection until you can see your dentist.

Put a permanent end to toothaches with Staley Dental.

If you need help with a current toothache, please get in touch by calling our downtown Boise office. For less urgent appointments or to join our dental care family as a new patient, you can also fill out this easy online form.