The common causes of toothache, and dental pain in general, are listed in this article. Toothache is potentially debilitating at it’s worse. Also if you ignore it and do not have the cause treated, it can potentially progress to a dangerous abscess.
This page will also cover other causes of oral pain, many of which can mimic ‘proper’ toothache. As well as the teeth giving rise to the problem, it may arise from the gums, the jaws and the sinuses. The type of pain can vary and this is useful in determining the underlying source.
You may want to jump ahead to the following page on toothache relief for tips and remedies on alleviating symptoms while waiting to see your dentist.
The Common Culprits List:
- Dental decay. This is the most common underlying cause.
- Nerve damage to teeth. This can be from decay, deep fillings or trauma to a tooth. Can lead to abscess (click here for information on such tooth infection types).
- Broken filling.
- Cracked tooth.
- Dental sensitivity. There are many possible reasons for this including root exposure, gum disease and tooth-wear.
- Impacted wisdom teeth.
- Gum disease including ANUG and periodontal abscess.
- Jaw pain, including TMJ disorder and pains from grinding and clenching.
- Problems after dental treatment. This is common after some procedures, such as tooth pain after filling and root canal treatment.
- Acute sinusitis. Can cause symptoms above and around the top back teeth.
- Teething in babies as their teeth push through the gums.
So, having problems in the mouth is not necessarily due to your teeth. There are many potential causes, so diagnosis is not always straightforward. Referred pain is common around the mouth. Always get it checked by a dentist. The dentist will often need to do a lot of investigating to find the exact source of your problem.
Rarely, oral pain can be due to other medical problems such as earache, neuralgia, angina or heart attack. Another one of the many reasons for getting things professionally checked.
As mentioned, toothache symptoms will vary in terms of:
- Location in the mouth
- What brings it on
- What makes it worse
- What relieves it
Why should the different kinds of toothache you are having be of interest to you? … Because the type of pain often gives clues on what is causing it, and can help you relieve your symptoms at home. Below is a list of the types, their effects and what the cause may be for each…
The Different Types/Symptoms of Toothache Include:
Sharp pain/sensitivity. A ‘sharp’ pain is brought on usually in one area, when the tooth contacts with hot/cold/sweet food or drink.
This type can be from any of several causes:
- Dental decay; the most common source.
- Thinning/loss of enamel.
- Gum recession.
- Abrasion (from over-brushing the teeth).
- A broken filling.
Persistent toothache. This can be similar to the above sharp type. The difference is that it lasts for a longer duration, for example for many minutes after any heat/cold/sweet stuff has gotten near the tooth. This is usually a sign of nerve damage to the tooth.
Intense ache/unable to sleep. If intense and unceasing, whereby nothing helps relieve the pain, it is likely due to inflammation (damage) inside the pulp of the tooth, or from a dental abscess. It can radiate towards the eye, ear and temples.
Problems on chewing/biting/eating. Here it is the physical nature of food and not its temperature that affects the tooth. Toothache examples here include a cracked tooth, dental decay and an abscess.
Symptoms with jaw movement. This is often due to problems in your ‘TMJ’- i.e. your jaw joint. If you are grinding at night, the jaw pain is often worse in the morning. Symptoms that are worse when you move your jaw, on eating or yawning for example, can indicate TMJ. The problem may extend to cause neck pain and headache. Symptoms may be acute or chronic.
Pain at the back of the mouth. Symptoms concentrated here is often from impacted wisdom teeth. It can also be from jaw (TMJ) problems.
Swelling in the mouth. If you have a swelling in the gum or elsewhere in your mouth and there is pain at the same time: This is usually due to an abscess or impacted wisdom teeth. Get to your dentist as soon as possible especially if you feel unwell or have a fever.
Worse on head movement. This emanating from the top back teeth and made worse by moving your head- for example nodding your head or going up-and-down stairs; this may be a sign of sinus infection. Usually this is accompanied by other sinusitis symptoms, like a stuffy or runny nose.
Electric shock-type. This can be a sign of neuralgia, which is a medical condition not caused by dental problems. There is, however, one type of electric-shock type pain known as ‘galvanic’ shock that does come from the teeth. Galvanic-shock is caused when two of the different metals from dental treatments come into contact. When a gold crown or filling comes into contact with a metal filling (a newly placed one, usually), this can cause an electric shock-type reaction. It will often clear away with time, but do ask your dentist for advice.
Toothache/pain in the mouth can often spread to the ear, throat and beyond. Referred symptoms in the head and neck area is common.
So, visiting your dentist should be your primary action if you get a toothache. ‘Sitting, waiting, wishing’ that it cures itself is not usually a smart move. Even if it does go away itself, it may well be a sign of some problem in your teeth that needs attention. You can expect the pain to return!
See the following pages for more info:
- Toothache relief - for examples on what you can do while waiting to see your dentist.
- This page has advice on what sort of treatment you might need for each kind of toothache.
- Main page on tooth pain (including prevention tips).