woman with sensitive teeth

Experiencing pain in your gums or teeth can be alarming, especially if the pain comes on suddenly. There are several reasons a tooth might be causing you pain or discomfort, and the pain can range from mild to severe. In most cases, toothache pain is an indication that there is something wrong with the gums or teeth. Whatever the cause may be, you should never ignore a toothache. If the pain is caused by tooth decay, it almost certainly will get worse if untreated. If the pain is caused by infection, you will likely need antibiotics. If an infection is present, leaving it untreated can be very dangerous as the infection can spread throughout your body. Toothaches are not usually very serious, but can sometimes be a sign of a serious medical condition that might require medical attention immediately.  

What does Toothache pain feel like? 

Toothache pain can be different for everyone, depending on the cause, location of damaged/infection tooth, how long the pain/tooth has been left untreated etc.  

Depending on these and other factors you may experience: 

  • Sharp pain in your tooth when you bite down or touch your tooth 
  • Aching or tenderness in or around the affected teeth  
  • Swelling around the tooth 
  • Throbbing pain in or around your tooth 
  • Fever
  • Painful sensitivity in response to cold or hot foods and drinks  
  • Burning or shock-like pain can occur, but is not common 

What Can Cause a Toothache? 

The most common cause of a toothache is tooth decay. If damaged or decaying teeth are left untreated, an abscess or infection can form. The abscess can form in your gums near the affected tooth or inside the pulp within your tooth. If you think you have a dental abscess you should see your dentist right away. In very rare instances, the infection could spread to the brain, which can be a life threatening condition. An impacted tooth can also be the cause of a toothache. An impacted tooth occurs when a tooth (usually a molar or wisdom tooth) becomes stuck in your bone or gum tissue. When it becomes stuck, it cannot grow in or erupt. This can cause pressure and pain in the affected tooth. In most cases the impacted tooth must be removed.  

In some cases, tooth pain is a source of ‘referred pain’ which means the pain is being caused by an issue in a different part of the body. The most common instance of this is a condition called sinusitis. Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become inflamed because of an infection in your sinus cavity. This infection could be viral, bacterial or fungal. Sinusitis can cause pain in your upper teeth because the roots of those teeth are in close proximity to your sinuses.  

There are some less common conditions that may cause referred toothache pain such as heart disease or lung cancer. In some rare instances, toothache can be an early sign of heart attack. Toothaches can be caused by heart or lung disease because of the location of the vagus nerve. This particular nerve runs from the brain to several different organs throughout the body; including the lungs and heart. The vagus nerve also passes through your jaw. There are also some rare and painful neurological conditions that can cause the nerves in the face, teeth and skull to become inflamed or irritated. When this occurs, the pain can feel like it is originating in your teeth. 

How are Toothaches Treated? 

If you are experiencing a toothache, it is important to seek treatment from your dentist. Home treatment (such as over the counter painkillers or mouth rinses) can help to provide temporary relief until you are able to see your dentist.  

When you do get to see your dentist, they will likely begin with a physical exam of your mouth and x-rays, especially of the affected tooth. They may also provide you with painkillers or antibiotics if an infection is present.  

If the pain is the result of tooth decay, the affected tooth will be cleaned with a drill to remove the decay and then filled with the appropriate dental materials. If the pain is the result of an impacted tooth, the tooth will likely need to be surgically removed.  

If your dentist is unable to find the source or cause of the pain, they may refer you to a doctor to rule out other medical conditions.  

If the cause is sinusitis, your doctor may suggest treatment with decongestant medications or antibiotics.  

When is a Toothache an Emergency? 

If you experience any of the following symptoms (as well as a toothache) you should seek emergency treatment immediately:  

  • Lightheadedness, chest pain, shortness of breath, or other possible signs of a heart attack 
  • Swelling in your face or jaw, which could be a sign that an infection in spreading 
  • Pus or blood on or near the affected tooth 
  • A cough that doesn’t go away, wheezing or coughing up blood  
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing which can be signs of lung cancer 

How Can Toothaches be Prevented? 

The best thing anyone can do to prevent toothaches from developing is to consistently practice excellent dental hygiene. This includes brushing twice daily for at least two minutes at a time, flossing daily, and seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. It is also important to keep your heart and lungs healthy. Most importantly this means not smoking, eating a healthy diet that is high in fibre and being active for at least 30 minutes each day.   

At Stonegate Dental we are fully committed to helping you achieve and maintain the healthiest and most beautiful smile possible. If you are experiencing toothache pain or want to talk to our staff about the treatments and services we offer, call our Guelph Dentist Office today! We look forward to talking with you and are proud to ensure all your Dental needs are met.  

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