What causes our teeth to hurt, and what should we do about it? When should we really contact our dentist if we are experiencing tooth pain? 

These are the questions that come up when a tooth begins to hurt. And like any other person living in the digital age, the first place you go for answers is probably the internet. But not everything you find on the internet is true or based in fact or even has your best interest at heart. 

Here’s what you need to know about toothaches, from symptoms to treatment. 

Tooth Pain: What It Is and Symptoms to Look For

Tooth pain, or toothache, is typically caused by the irritation of the nerves either located in the roots of the teeth or surrounding them. 

Symptoms include:

  • A sharp, throbbing, or constant pain
  • Pain when pressure is applied, such as when eating
  • Bad taste or odor in the mouth
  • Fever or headache
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold for 15 seconds or longer after stimuli has been removed 
  • Bleeding or discharge from the tooth or surrounding gums 
  • Swelling of the gums or jaw 
  • Pain that radiates to the jaw, cheek, or ear canals 

5 Types of Tooth Pain

1. Dull and Persistent

A tooth that is causing dull and persistent pain is also frequently accompanied by swollen gums. This type of pain can simply be a result of a piece of food debris becoming lodged between teeth, creating an uncomfortable pressure. More seriously, it can be a sign of an abscessed tooth or, when accompanied by pain that extends into the jaw, bruxism.       

2. Jabbing 

Sudden, inconsistent jabbing pain in the tooth is often due to a dental filling or crown that has become loose. It can also occur when a tooth is suffering from severe decay or has otherwise become fractured.

3. Intense Throbbing

A tooth exhibiting intense throbbing pain may also be accompanied by swelling of the surrounding gum tissue. This type of pain is often indicative of an infected tooth within the pulp, roots, gums, or jawbone. 

4. Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common forms of tooth pain. Many people experience sensitivity as a result of gum recession and worn enamel that leave the dentin layer of the tooth exposed. However, if you are experiencing pain for longer than 15 seconds after the initial stimulus has been removed, it is likely there is a more serious cause. Sensitivity, especially to hot and cold temperatures, can be a symptom of inflamed or infected dental pulp.

5. Impaction

Impaction most commonly occurs as wisdom teeth begin or attempt to erupt. A tooth that has not, or can not, erupt through the gum line due to a lack of space or incorrect positioning can cause gum tissue to become infected and swollen. As the tooth tries to break through, it will also push on surrounding teeth, which can lead to pain, discomfort, shifting, infection, or gum disease 

6 Causes of Tooth Pain

1. Infection

The dental pulp, roots, gums, and jawbone can all become infected when oral health is neglected and dental issues are left untreated. Infected dental pulp can become abscessed, causing quite a lot of pain and damage to the surrounding tissues down to the roots of the tooth. Infection of the gums is periodontitis, also called gum disease. This disease, left untreated, can spread to the jawbone, resulting in loose, painful teeth and, eventually, tooth loss.  

2. Fractures and Trauma

Chips, cracks, fractures, and trauma to the tooth and its restorations can all cause tooth pain. Any break in the tooth can leave the pulp within vulnerable to harmful, infection-causing bacteria. 

3. Malocclusion 

Malocclusion is the misalignment of the way our teeth come together. This can happen in individuals with an overbite, underbite, open bite, crossbite, or crowded teeth. Misalignment of the teeth can cause pain when talking or chewing due to the teeth improperly meeting in the closed position. It can also increase the risk of decay and gum disease. 

4. Decay

Tooth decay is the erosion of the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth. Acids from the foods we eat and bacteria on our teeth wear away the enamel layer by leeching it of the minerals that keep it strong. Our body cannot replace this protective layer, so once it is gone, it is gone, leaving the more vulnerable dentin layer open to acids that cause decay. Dentin is naturally sensitive to hot and cold temperatures; however, it is when the dentin has been so severely decayed as to expose the dental pulp that pain and infection begin to seriously affect day-to-day life. 

5. Grinding 

Tooth grinding, medically known as bruxism, is a common cause of tooth pain. Often done unconsciously, the habit of tooth grinding can significantly wear teeth down to stumps. Bruxism can lead to cracked teeth and the need for dental restorations, as well as worn tooth enamel, leaving teeth at risk of decay and infection. 

6. Eruption and Impaction

As teeth erupt, they must push through gum tissue, which can cause quite a bit of discomfort. If they are impacted and, thus, have no space to come through or are at an incorrect position, they will push on surrounding teeth as they try to erupt to the surface. This can cause tooth pain, as well as infection and misalignment issues. 

Treatment of Tooth Pain 

During your visit, your dentist will examine your teeth. It is only after they do a thorough examination you will know for sure the cause of your tooth pain. Depending on the cause, your dentist will create a treatment plan to address your dental issues. 

That said, in most instances, you can expect a treatment plan for tooth pain to include one or more of the following: 

  • Dental fillings are used to restore a tooth damaged by decay. It may also be used to complete a root canal procedure.
  • Root canal therapy is the removal of infected dental pulp from the chamber and root of the afflicted tooth. When the infected tissues have been removed, the tooth is cleaned and filled before finishing off the procedure with either a filling or dental crown to protect it from future decay. 
  • Tooth removal and replacement may be required for a tooth that has been severely affected by decay and cannot otherwise be saved. Depending on your overall oral health, your dentist will recommend either a dental implant, bridge, or partial to replace the tooth and restore dental function. Removal may also be necessary for impacted wisdom teeth, and in this case, replacement is not necessary. 
  • Orthodontics, such as braces and clear aligners, are used to treat malocclusion and properly align teeth. 
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed to those experiencing tooth pain as a result of infection.