Toothache is pain in and around the teeth and jaws that is most often caused by tooth decay.
The pain usually starts suddenly and it can vary from mild discomfort to a severe throbbing. The area of your jaw close to the infected tooth may also be sore and tender to the touch.
Toothache can either come and go or be constant and is often worse at night, but it won’t usually get better without treatment. Eating or drinking can make the pain worse, particularly if the food or drink is hot or cold.
Symptoms of Toothache
Symptom: Momentary sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
Possible cause: If this discomfort lasts only moments, sensitivity to hot and cold foods generally does not signal a serious problem. The sensitivity may be caused by a small decay, a loose filling or by minimal gum recession that exposes small areas of the root surface.
What to do: Try using toothpastes made for sensitive teeth, if the problem persists for more than a couple of days after using this type of toothpaste you should visit your dentist. I really didn’t believe that a toothpaste could stop teeth sensitivity until my own dentist gave me (for free!) a tube of Sensodyne when I told him I had a sensitive tooth – it worked like magic with 2 brushing’s. I stopped using the Sensodyne almost straight away but the sensitivity never returned.
Symptom: Sensitivity to hot or cold foods after dental treatment.
Possible problem: Dental work may inflame the pulp inside the tooth causing temporary sensitivity.
What to do: Wait two to four weeks. If the sensitivity persists or worsens, see your dentist.
Symptom: Lingering pain, typically lasting more than 30 seconds, after eating hot or cold foods.
Possible problem: This probably means the pulp has been damaged by deep decay or physical trauma.
What to do: See your dentist or endodontist to save the tooth with root canal treatment.
Symptom: Sharp pain when biting down on food.
Possible problem: A loose filling, and crack in the tooth, decay or damage to the pulp tissue inside the tooth can all result in sharp pain when eating.
What to do: See the dentist
Symptom: Constant and severe pain and pressure, swelling of gum and sensitivity to touch.
Possible problem: A tooth may have become abscessed, causing an infection in the surrounding tissue and bone.
What to do: See your dentist for evaluation and treatment to relieve the pain and save the tooth. Take over-the-counter medications until you see your dentist.
Symptom: Dull ache and pressure in upper teeth and jaw.
Possible problem: Grinding of teeth, a condition known as bruxism, can cause this type of ache. The pain of a sinus headache also is often felt in the face and teeth.
What to do: For bruxism, consult your dentist. For sinus headache, try over-the-counter medication. If pain is severe and chronic, see your dentist.
- Your toothache is severe
- You have a fever, earache, or pain upon opening your mouth wide
If you have toothache for longer than one or two days, you should visit your dentist as soon as possible to have it treated. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get.
If your toothache is not treated, the pulp inside your tooth will eventually become infected. This usually leads to a dental abscess forming, which can cause severe and continuous pain.
Causes of Toothache
Since most toothaches are the result of tooth decay, following good oral hygiene practices can prevent them. Toothache happens when the innermost layer of the tooth – called dental pulp – becomes inflamed. Dental pulp is made up of soft, delicate tissue that contains sensitive nerves and blood vessels. Dental pulp can become inflamed because of:
- tooth decay that leads to cavities (holes) forming in the hard surface of the tooth
- a cracked tooth – the crack is often so small that it can’t be seen with the naked eye
- loose or broken fillings
- receding gums – where the gums contract (shrink) to expose softer, more sensitive parts of the tooth root
- dental abscess – a collection of pus at the end of the tooth caused by a bacterial infection
There are a number of other conditions that can cause pain similar to toothache, even though the pulp is not affected. These include:
- periodontal abscess – a collection of pus in the gums caused by a bacterial infection
- ulcers on your gums
- sore or swollen gums around a tooth that is breaking through, such as when your wisdom teeth start to come through
- sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) – this sometimes causes pain around the upper jaw
- an injury to the joint that attaches the jaw to the skull
The type of treatment you have for toothache depends on the cause of the pain, so your dentist will examine your mouth and may carry out an X-ray to try to identify the problem.
- If your toothache is caused by tooth decay, your dentist will remove the decayed area and replace it with a filling.
- If your toothache is caused by a loose or broken filling, the filling will be removed, any decay will be cleaned out and a new filling put in place.
- If the pulp of your tooth is infected, you may need to have root canal treatment. This is where your dentist removes the infected pulp, fills the space with a paste and may cover the remaining tooth with a crown to protect and seal it.
If your toothache cannot be treated using these methods or your tooth is impacted (wedged between another tooth and your jaw), your tooth may need to be removed.
Pain Medication for Toothache
Anti-inflammatory pain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can provide some immediate tooth pain relief by relieving pressure on nerve endings. When selecting a product, look for one that lists toothache pain relief on the bottle.
There are many topical applications available at your local chemist. The most effective tend to be gel-based oral pain relievers that work by temporarily blocking nerve signals in your body. Tooth ache drops can work temporarily and have generally have an oil of cloves base.