Whether you’re a kid or a grown-up, toothaches can be among the worst pains you can experience. Toothaches can be a dull throb, a sharp sting, or both. They can interfere with nearly any daily activity, including eating, drinking, and even breathing. If you have a toothache, you definitely want it to go away, and a great first step is determining the cause.
What is a toothache?
Toothache is a general term for pain and inflammation in or around the teeth. Sometimes we can experience mild toothaches due to biting into something hard or accidentally hitting our teeth with our hand or an object. Most people think of toothaches as more persistent, and have an underlying cause such as an injury or condition.
Specific symptoms of a toothache can vary depending on the cause, including shooting pains when there is any pressure, extreme sensitivity, or a dull throb. In some cases, a toothache may be difficult to distinguish from gum pain, and the causes can sometimes be interconnected.
Anyone experiencing a toothache that does not improve in a short period of time should see a dentist for diagnosis and treatment. Prompt care can stop the toothache from getting worse and help prevent future problems.
The Top 5 Causes of Toothaches
1. Tooth Decay and Cavities
In many cases, toothaches turn out to be caused by a cavity or earlier signs of tooth decay. The teeth have a protective coating of enamel that surrounds the softer bone, blood vessels, and nerves on the inside of the tooth. If bacteria begin to feed on food left on the surface of the teeth, particularly sugar and starches, the acid they leave as a byproduct can begin to eat away at the enamel.
Tooth decay by itself is not necessarily painful, but as the teeth begin to become exposed, the small holes can make the teeth more sensitive and cause toothaches. This can be particularly severe if decayed teeth are exposed to hot or cold temperatures or chewing.
2. Tooth Infections
If a bacterial infection, known as an abscess, develops in or around the tooth, it can cause a buildup of pus as the body tries to fight the infection. The pus and inflammation can cause tooth pain by irritating and putting pressure on the nerves in the tooth. Tooth infections can be caused by serious tooth decay, injuries, and complications related to dental work or procedures.
3. Gum Disease
Another place where bacteria can build up and cause pain is in the gums. Also called periodontal disease or gingivitis, gum disease is most commonly caused by plaque buildup that leads to bacteria growing in the gums, causing inflammation and bleeding. In the most serious cases, gum disease can lead to tooth pain and even tooth loss.
4. Injury or Damage
There are any number of injuries or trauma that can cause chipped, cracked, broken, or missing teeth. In most cases, this will result in immediate or quickly developing tooth pain that requires treatment. If you are able to recover the missing tooth or part of the tooth, wrap it in gauze and bring it with you to the dentist, as it may be possible to reattach.
5. Grinding, Chewing, and Other Repetitive Motions
In some situations, a toothache may not be caused by a disease or an injury, but instead by habitual daily motions. Actions like chewing gum or grinding teeth can put significant pressure on the teeth and result in wear and tear. This can lead to mild to moderate pain or even the potential for sharp nerve pains.
These kinds of toothaches can be treated by changing habits or through dental appliances such as mouthguards.
Treating and Preventing Toothaches
If you or your child is experiencing a toothache of any type or severity, you should schedule a dentist appointment as soon as you can. In the meantime, home remedies such as ice packs, salt water rinses, and over-the-counter medication can help relieve toothache symptoms.
After a full examination and diagnostic tests such as X-rays, your dentist can determine the underlying cause and take appropriate treatment measures. Common treatments for toothaches include:
- Fillings for cavities and tooth decay
- Dental sealants to stop the early signs of tooth decay and prevent cavities
- Dental bonding for cracked or chipped teeth
- Root canals for severe infections
- Periodontal treatments for gum disease
- Tooth removal for severely decayed and damaged teeth
Preventing future toothaches is another key part of the puzzle. Your dentist can discuss the steps you can take to promote healthy teeth and stop new toothaches from developing. Prevention steps include brushing and flossing every day, avoiding sugary and starchy foods and drinks, and attending regular dental checkups.
Keep Your Family’s Teeth Healthy with the Help of AC Pediatric Dentistry
Going to the dentist can be scary — we get it. But it should be fun! Whether it’s care for baby teeth, big kid teeth, oral surgery, or orthodontics, our team of specialized pediatric dentists make the experience memorable while teaching you how to encourage healthy habits and good hygiene for lifelong smiles. Call us today or request an appointment online. We can’t wait to meet you!