Toothache is undoubtedly the most common complaint heard by dentists. A toothache refers to any type of pain or discomfort that originates near a person’s teeth, gums, or jaw. While toothaches are often associated with cavities, not all tooth pain is caused by dental caries. Knowing what causes toothaches can help you prevent them in the future.
Many people equate tooth decay with a hole in the tooth, but not all cavities are visible from the outside. Tooth decay occurs when specific types of bacteria in the mouth produce acids that destroy enamel and dentin, the outermost layers of tooth. If the enamel and dentin layers are allowed to break down, the decay will eventually reach the pulp (nerve) of the tooth, causing toothache, infection, and ultimately tooth loss. A healthy diet coupled with routine dental care practices can be highly effective in warding off tooth decay.
Pain can occur when fillings become loose or damaged. In some cases, pain is only felt when you touch or bite your teeth together. This happens when the filling alters your bite. A trip to your dentist to have the filling reshaped will usually eliminate the pain. Damaged fillings can also cause sensitivity. Described as a sharp pain, this sensitivity lasts only seconds when the tooth touches something hot or cold. You may also experience a condition known as referred pain. This is pain that occurs in other teeth besides the one with the filling. Referred pain usually decreases on its own over several weeks.
One of the more painful toothaches occurs due to an abscessed tooth. A tooth abscess is a localized collection of pus that generally forms at the root of the tooth. Bacteria from plaque can build up when food and saliva stick to the teeth and gums. If the plaque is not removed through routine brushing and flossing, the bacteria can enter the soft tissue inside the tooth or gum, resulting in an abscess. The most common signs and symptoms of an abscessed tooth include pain, fever, and a bad taste in the mouth.
Mild tooth sensitivity can occur when the gums shrink or recede. A tooth that has not yet broken through the gums (impacted tooth) can also cause the area around the tooth to be red, sore, and swollen. Healthy gums are firm, pink, and do not bleed easily. While the gum disease gingivitis does not usually cause pain, a more advanced gum disease known as periodontitis affects the bone and tissues surrounding the teeth. Periodontist is caused by a long-term infection of the gums and can cause toothaches and eventually loose teeth that may need to be removed.
Tooth fractures can range from minor chips in the outer tooth layers to severe cracks that form down to the tooth root. A tooth fracture may present with a variety of symptoms, such as erratic pain when chewing, pain when the tooth is exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures, and pain with the release of biting pressure. An early diagnosis of a tooth fracture can typically be treated with bonding material or a root canal. If the crack extends below the gum line, it is no longer treatable.
A toothache is one of the most difficult types of pain to endure. While many causes of toothaches can be treated with early intervention, some badly damaged or infected teeth may not be salvageable and will require extraction. If you’re experiencing any type of mouth pain, contact your dentist for an evaluation.