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Does Your Tooth Hurt? Common Toothache Causes

by | Jan 1, 2019

Maybe you bit down on your favorite food the wrong way, or you woke up with throbbing tooth pain – either way you’re miserable. A toothache has a way of taking over and becoming impossible to ignore. When your tooth hurts, your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong. Tooth pain isn’t just an annoyance, it’s an early warning signal that something in your mouth isn’t working the way it should.

What Causes Tooth Pain?

There are many reasons why your teeth hurt, but they all typically fall into two categories: infection and/or some type of damage. When nerves at the root of the tooth become irritated by either cause, they send signals to your brain that you should stop doing what is aggravating the condition – chewing, clenching your jaw, or eating/drinking “triggering” foods like sugary sodas. The problem is, at this point, stopping the behavior won’t fix the true issue at hand. In order to properly treat the tooth pain, you must first figure out what is causing the toothache itself. Here are a few reasons behind tooth pain:



Cavities occur when tooth enamel is worn-down from acids and plaque accumulation. After the outer enamel is worn away, acids attack your tooth’s dentin, and ultimately tooth pulp. Cavities are known to make teeth sensitive, and will cause mild to moderate tooth pain in early stages.

Tooth Pulp Inflammation and Infection

Your tooth pulp, which is the center filling of your tooth, may be inflamed from a bacterial infection. A common cause of these types of infections are unfilled cavities that continue to eat away the tooth. Deep infections that are left untreated can turn into abscesses. Abscesses are extremely painful, as they expose the tooth and allow infections to travel to other parts of your body, causing gum infections and even extremely serious blood infections, if left long untreated.


External trauma is another common cause of tooth pain. Tooth pain from trauma can be as simple as biting down too hard on an unpopped popcorn kernel, or as severe as a steering wheel injury in a car accident. Additionally, temporary pain can stem from a recent dental procedure, like a filling or root canal. Generally it is only a side effect of your teeth getting used to the repair, and will subside within a week or two.

Sensitive teeth

Patients with sensitive teeth might find brushing uncomfortable, have trouble with hot and cold foods like coffee or ice cream, or experience dental pain more acutely than their peers. Excessive and improper teeth whitening is often a leading cause of sensitive teeth. Toothaches caused by sensitive teeth are mild in comparison to infection related tooth pain.

Gum disease

Gum disease, medically referred to as periodontal disease, can cause tooth pain. Gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease, results in an inflammation of the gum tissues in the mouth. This can cause mild tooth pain. Periodontitisitis, referred to as periodontal disease, occurs when gingivitis is left untreated, and causes moderate to severe tooth pain. This is because toxins that are released from plaque on the teeth ultimately cause the teeth and gums to separate, creating pockets that are prone to infection. A severe toothache accompanied by red, inflamed gums is a sure sign of gum disease.

Teeth Grinding

Cleaning your jaw excessively, or grinding teeth during sleep puts additional stress on your jaw muscles and joints. This can cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD. A common symptom of TMD is mild to moderate toothaches. Your dentist will be able to identify solutions to treat your TMD, which will solve tooth pain.

Sinus Infection

Sinus infections can surprisingly affect your teeth. This is because sinus infections cause inflammation and swelling of the sinus cavity. This pain can be felt in your forehead, between your eyes, and even your upper jaws and teeth. This type of tooth pain will feel like a dull ache, and will typically go away with the sinus infection.

Wisdom Teeth Pain

If you experience a toothache that is constant in your back molars, check your mouth out to see if your wisdom teeth are growing in. Wisdom teeth pain may be dull or throbbing depending on the amount of room in your mouth for the teeth, and the way the teeth themselves are growing in. It is best to have a dental professional examine your wisdom teeth if they are growing in because these teeth are prone to gum disease, cavities, and other types of infections and you may need them removed.

When To See A Dentist

Proper oral hygiene is the best way to prevent tooth pain caused by cavities, infections, and gum disease. Effective brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings will remove bacteria, plaque, and food particles that may cause problems if left to chance. However, there are some types of tooth pain that will happen no matter how dedicated you are to your oral hygiene routine.

If your toothache persists even with OTC pain medication, or begins to escalate in pain level, you should always call your dentist to schedule an appointment. While a self-examination may help you see what the exterior cause of the tooth pain is, there may be infections or problems that only a dentist will be able to identify.

Make sure to avoid very hot, very cold, or very sugary foods until your appointment, and continue to brush and floss the area to keep it clean as possible. You can use hot and cold compresses to reduce swelling and inflammation as well. Once a dentist is able to examine your mouth and treat the underlying issue, your toothache will be a distant memory.


Triangle Dentistry located in Raleigh, NC provides a state-of-the-art facility that offers exceptional general dental and specialty services guided by empathy of patient’s needs and desires. Services range from dental crowns and implants to veneers and whitening procedures. For further information, questions or to schedule an appointment, contact the office at (919) 747-3592.