Toothache? Here’s What Could Be Causing It


When’s the best time to see a dentist? 2:30? Tooth-hurty? You’ve heard the joke.

It’s not all that funny when you’re actually dealing with tooth pain, though. They’re uncomfortable, distracting, and (unfortunately) very common. Here is a look at some of the common symptoms and causes of toothaches, as well as what to do about them.

What Are the Symptoms of a Toothache?

Although toothaches are common, they can present themselves differently with each occurrence. While some may be dull, throbbing pains, others may be sharp pains after biting down or some tingling after eating hot or cold foods.

Other symptoms that can accompany toothaches include: bad breath, foul-tasting drainage from a tooth, and gum tenderness. Also, if you start to experience any severe pain, fever, or swelling in your mouth or face, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. 

7 Common Causes of a Toothache

So, what’s to blame? Here are seven of the most common causes of a toothache:

1. Tooth Decay

Tooth decay (AKA a cavity) is the most common cause of a toothache. Tooth decay happens when bacteria build up on the surface of your teeth, usually resulting in a dark or brown spot. As time goes on, the bacteria can work their way into the inner pulp and nerves of your tooth, which is sure to cause some pain.

2. Abscessed Tooth 

If problems like a cavity, cracked tooth, or lodged popcorn kernel are left unresolved, bacterial infections could start in or around the tooth, causing an abscess. An abscess is a pocket of pus that swells around the affected area, sometimes draining fluid as well. 

If left untreated, infections like these can spread to your gums and other parts of your mouth, which can become a pretty serious problem. It’s best to get these checked out by a dentist as soon as you notice them.

3. Cracked, Broken, or Chipped Tooth

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body. However, there are still instances where they can take some damage, like biting down too hard on peanut brittle or taking a foul ball to the mouth at a baseball game. Even the tiniest of fractures can result in some pain, especially if they are above your gum line.

4. Impacted Teeth

Impacted teeth are teeth blocked from breaking through the surface of your gum. For many people, this happens with wisdom teeth. Usually, your dentist can spot them on X-rays early enough to get them out before any pain ensues, but if you’ve missed a few appointments or if it’s been awhile since your last x-ray, they can still cause issues, as can other impacted teeth.

5. Periodontal Diseases

There are two stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is on the milder side, causing your gums to swell and bleed easily. However, if left untreated, it could advance to periodontitis which destroys the gums and bones that hold your teeth and creates gaps between them. It can loosen teeth, and even lead to tooth loss.

6. TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint that connects your jaw to the lower part of your skull. It helps you with things like talking and eating, so problems with it can be quite bothersome. It can come from an injury to the area, arthritis, or grinding or clenching teeth (bruxism)

For some people, TMJ is episodic and goes away after a few days, but for others, it could last for years. It mostly causes pain or a feeling of “stuckness” in your jaw, but could also be a reason for a toothache.

7. Tooth Sensitivity

If you’re feeling pain or a tingling sensation in your tooth after drinking a hot cup of coffee or eating an ice cream cone, you may have a tooth sensitivity. Tooth sensitivities occur when your tooth enamel is worn down from brushing too hard, grinding your teeth, or other health conditions like gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Teeth can be sensitive to hot, cold, acidic, and sweet foods, as well as alcohol-based mouthwashes.

Home Remedies for Toothaches

Most toothaches require a visit to the dentist, but there are some things you can do at home to minimize your pain while waiting for an appointment. 

Saltwater Rinse

Salt is a natural disinfectant, so rinsing your mouth with saltwater can help reduce inflammation and relieve some pain. To create a saltwater rinse, mix ½ teaspoon of salt with a cup of warm water. Swish each sip around your mouth for a few seconds, then spit it out. 

OTC Pain Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like aspirin often do the trick in temporarily relieving pain. Take the medication as directed on the package. Do not crush the painkiller and apply it to the surrounding area, as it could burn your gums and result in more pain. 

OTC topical dental pain medications like benzocaine are also helpful in some circumstances. They can help numb the area temporarily.

Cold Compress

Just like you would ice a sore muscle, you can ice a sore tooth. The chill of the ice or ice pack will help constrict the  blood vessels, reduce swelling and inflammation, and relieving pain. Wrap a bag of ice in a towel and hold against the area for 20 minutes, repeating every few hours. 

When to See A Dentist

If your pain is severe and has not subsided with home treatments in a few days, it’s best to have a dentist take a look. Dr. Mogren can help you discover the cause of your toothache and find relief from the pain. Schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

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