Toothache or tooth pain can have a significant impact on our well-being, particularly when it is ongoing and persistent. It can make it difficult to eat and chew, hard to relax because of the distracting pain, and can make our minds ponder possible causes, which might cause us anxiety and distress.
Therefore, it is natural that when we have toothache, we want to find a fast, effective solution that allows us to feel better quickly, so we can get back to our day-to-day lives without having to worry about unpleasant sensations.
In this article, we will be discussing some possible causes of toothache and how you can find relief, at home or with the help of your dentist near your place.
Firstly, it is important to understand the structure of teeth
Before we jump in, it’s firstly important to have a working understanding of how our teeth are structured. On the outside of the teeth, we have enamel, which is the hardest part of the tooth.
Deeper within the tooth from this is the dentin, which is still a hard tissue, but which is more ‘porous’ in that it has ‘tubes’ connecting it with the centre of the tooth.
This centre of the tooth, the pulp, is the most sensitive area of the tooth. It contains blood vessels and nerves.
The entire tooth connects to the gums and jawbone via the tooth root, the part of the tooth we cannot see under the gumline.
If you are experiencing toothache that is driving you to visit a dentist for toothache relief, the most likely cause of your pain is tooth decay.
Tooth decay occurs when plaque builds up on the teeth. Plaque contains bacteria which generates acids which eat away at the hard enamel of the tooth’s exterior. This process is exaggerated when we are consuming a lot of sugar, and can be mitigated by a proper oral hygiene routine at home.
Tooth decay may expose the dentin or make it less protected, which can then make you more vulnerable to pain. This pain may present as sensitivity to hot and cold food and drink or in other ways.
Prevention is the best method for stopping tooth decay from occurring in the first place, but your dentist can also provide relief by using fillings to address cavities that result from tooth decay. Your dental professional can also undertake a thorough dental hygiene clean that will remove plaque and reduce the occurrence of tooth decay in the first place.
For this reason, a regular six-monthly check-up at your dentist is advised. They will be able to detect any potential decay early and provide tailored advice on your oral hygiene routine, or early treatment before a more extensive procedure may be necessary at your dental clinic.
If a cavity has gone untreated for a period of time and you are experiencing toothache, then there is a chance you may have a tooth abscess. A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus which results from a bacterial infection; it may occur in the tooth itself or in the gums if they are also affected. This occurs when bacteria enter the centre of the tooth through a cavity or through a chip in the enamel.
If you suspect an abscess, you should visit your dental professional immediately. Signs and symptoms of a tooth abscess may include throbbing and continuous toothache that spreads to surrounding areas (e.g., jaw, neck), discomfort chewing or with hot and cold, fever, swollen face or neck, tender lymph nodes, and bad breath.
Typically, your dental professional will have to drain the abscess to remove the pus and the infection; sometimes if the infection is widespread, antibiotics may be required, too.
The tooth may still be able to stay if it can be saved with a root canal treatment. This treatment involves removing the pulp or soft centre of the tooth, then filling and sealing off the space. Tooth abscesses need to be treated quickly and effectively, as the infection can potentially spread to other areas, including sinuses.
Other common causes of tooth pain
- Otherwise known as tooth grinding or tooth clenching, bruxism involves when teeth are ground together, often unconsciously or during our sleep. This can cause painful damage to the teeth or also to the jaw joint (the temporomandibular joint or TMJ). Possible solutions to this pain include addressing the cause (e.g., minimising stress) or wearing a dental professional-made night guard or mouthguard at night to reduce damage and buck the habit.
- Dental injury. A dental injury may be obvious, to the point where there is no need to be searching online to understand what is causing your pain (for example, if you have a head knock during a game of sports). However, a dental injury such as a hairline crack may be more subtle and may occur as a more gradual wear and tear process. Your dentist will be able to detect these issues through close assessment. To reduce the risk of injury during sports, you can wear a custom-made mouthguard from your dentist.
- Wisdom teeth. If you are in your teenage years or your 20s, you may be more likely to experience this specific type of pain, which will mostly be focused on the area behind your existing molars as your wisdom teeth start to emerge. The pain can be local in the gum as the teeth come out but also to the surrounding area, including the jaw and the neighbouring teeth, if the emerging teeth ‘impact’ the surrounding teeth. Wisdom teeth are usually problematic and need to be removed surgically by your dentist.
- Tooth Decay: Decay, often caused by poor oral hygiene, leads to the formation of cavities. As these cavities progress, they expose sensitive nerves, resulting in pain. Regular dental check-ups and good oral care help prevent and address tooth decay.
- Gum Infections: Infections like gingivitis and periodontitis can cause gum inflammation and pain. Proper brushing, flossing, and professional dental cleanings are essential for maintaining gum health and preventing infections.
- Tooth Abscess: An abscess forms when a bacterial infection reaches the tooth’s root. This can cause severe throbbing pain, swelling, and even drainage of pus. Timely dental intervention, such as root canal treatment, is crucial to address abscessed teeth.
- Tooth Fracture: A cracked or broken tooth exposes nerves, leading to pain, especially when biting or consuming hot/cold foods. Depending on the severity, treatments may include bonding, crowns, or in more severe cases, extraction and replacement options.
- Sinus Infections: Sinus infections may cause referred pain to the upper teeth. Addressing the sinus issue with appropriate medical care often resolves associated tooth discomfort.
- Grinding Teeth (Bruxism): Clenching or grinding teeth can lead to tooth pain and sensitivity. Mouthguards, stress management, and addressing dental misalignment are common approaches to manage bruxism.
- Sensitive Teeth: Sensitivity can result from enamel erosion or gum recession, exposing nerves. Desensitizing toothpaste, fluoride treatments, and addressing the underlying causes help manage tooth sensitivity.
- Impacted Wisdom Teeth: Wisdom teeth that don’t fully emerge can cause pain and pressure. Extraction may be recommended to alleviate discomfort and prevent potential complications.
- Dental Procedures: Discomfort after dental procedures is common but usually temporary. Pain management and following post-treatment care instructions help minimize any lingering discomfort.
- Misaligned Teeth: Uneven pressure during biting and chewing from misaligned teeth may cause pain. Orthodontic treatments can help align teeth properly, reducing pain and improving overall oral health.