Tooth Pain? A Guide to Understanding Why Your Teeth Hurt

Understand the cause of your tooth pain

Learning to Listen to What Your Toothache Is Telling You

Toothaches are infamous for causing a lot of pain, sometimes keeping you awake at night or making it difficult to concentrate during the day. As unpleasant as this pain can be, it’s vital for us to experience — in many ways, pain keeps us healthy. It’s our body’s way of telling us, “Hey, stop what you’re doing and pay attention to this! Something’s wrong!” It allows us to recognize that there’s a problem and begin taking action to identify and resolve it before it gets worse. So when one or more of your teeth hurt, it’s important to pay attention and schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

There are several types of tooth pain and many potential causes, including a range of issues with your teeth, gums, and even your jaw. This can make navigating a toothache from home difficult. It’s often stressful not knowing what to expect as a diagnosis and it can be tricky to judge what type or amount of pain qualifies as a dental emergency. 

Thankfully, we’re here to help! We want to make your treatment process as easy and painless as possible, so we’ve put together a guide to help you understand your tooth pain, including teaching you how to identify a dental emergency and what you can or should do while you wait for your appointment. 

What causes toothaches?

Cavities are the most well-known cause of toothaches, but they’re far from the only cause. You might be surprised by just how many issues tooth pain can indicate — and they’re not all major! An issue as minor as a bit of food, like a piece of corn hull stuck in your gums, can irritate them and lead to a toothache, so it’s always wise to floss between your teeth to make sure this isn’t the case if you’ve developed a toothache. Sinus infections can also cause toothaches because the increased pressure in your sinus cavities from the infection can compress nerve endings in your teeth.

Other times, toothaches are a sign that there’s a problem with your oral health. Dental injuries like a chipped, cracked, or broken tooth can cause tooth pain, and since cracks aren’t always visible to the naked eye, you might not be aware they’re even there. Similarly, wisdom teeth can cause pain while they erupt or by becoming impacted or putting too much pressure on nearby teeth. 

Other potential problems include a filling that has fallen out, enamel erosion, abscesses, infection, or regularly clenching or grinding your teeth in a habit known as bruxism. Toothaches don’t always indicate that there’s an issue with one of your teeth specifically, though. They can also indicate a problem with your jaw known as TMJ or an issue with your gums like gum disease or receding gums. 

What are the types of tooth pain?

When you have a toothache, it’s important to pay attention to the type of pain you’re experiencing and what, if anything, triggers it because these details can help narrow down what the cause of your pain might be. Sharp tooth pain or tooth sensitivity are common types of tooth pain that often have triggers instead of being constant. 

Pain sparked by hot or cold temperatures can indicate a range of potential issues, including a cavity, abscess, gum recession, gum disease, or enamel erosion. On the other hand, pain caused by pressure from eating or moving your jaw could indicate a cavity or a dental injury such as a crack or a fracture.

Toothaches don’t always have a clear trigger such as temperature or pressure, though. Severe tooth pain that comes and goes in waves, often making its presence known and then disappearing again without a clear cause, can indicate a cavity, a crack in your tooth, or an abscess. 

Other types of tooth pain are more constant, though their severity still varies. Dull toothaches that are often relatively mild but remain constant can be incredibly distracting and often indicate a cavity, bruxism, or damage to the nerves at the center of your tooth. 

It’s extreme, throbbing toothaches that often make going to the dentist sound appealing, though — and there’s a good reason for that! These types of toothaches tend to signal a serious oral health issue such as a severe cavity, infection, or abscess. 

How can you tell if tooth pain is an emergency?

Since toothaches are designed to indicate a problem with your oral health, any time you experience a toothache that lasts longer than one or two days and isn’t resolved by flossing to free potential debris from your mouth, you need to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as you can. 

Despite this, there’s still a difference between a standard toothache that needs to be seen soon and a true dental emergency. So, how do you know if your tooth pain requires an emergency dental appointment?

One of the major keys in determining this is the severity of your pain. Dull toothaches or sharp pain that has specific triggers can often wait a little while, so it’s usually best to request an appointment online for these types of pain. But if your pain is severe—especially if it’s to the point where you can’t distract yourself from it—you likely have a dental emergency on your hands. You should also pay attention to your other symptoms. 

If your severe toothache is accompanied by an earache, fever, trouble swallowing, swelling in your mouth, jaw, or face, or if the skin around the site of your pain is hot to the touch, you should call our office and schedule an emergency dental appointment right away. These are signs of an infection that could pose a risk to your overall health, so we need to see you immediately.

How can you minimize your tooth pain until your appointment?

Whether you’re seeing us in a few hours or a few days, handling a toothache while you wait is never fun. Thankfully, there are plenty of options out there to minimize your pain while you wait! Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications are a tried-and-true way of managing pain and inflammation while you wait for your appointment. Icing the area for 20 minutes every few hours can also help minimize pain, swelling, and inflammation, but be careful not to keep the ice on for too long.

You can also use a natural pain relief method such as clove oil, which has been used to numb toothaches for centuries. Clove oil has been used for so long because it genuinely works — in addition to being a natural antiseptic, it contains the natural anesthetic eugenol. Amazingly, this allows it to naturally numb your tooth! You can apply the oil directly to the painful area using a cotton swab or cotton ball, or you can add a drop of it in water to use as a mouth rinse. 

The numbing properties of menthol also make peppermint tea bags a popular method for relieving tooth pain. After making a cup of peppermint tea, you can either wait for the tea bag to cool and place it against your tooth while it’s still slightly warm or chill it in the fridge for a cooling effect. These are all great options for tooth pain relief, but remember to let us know which method you’ve used when you make it to our office for your appointment. 

Are there ways to prevent tooth pain or catch dental issues early?

Yes! No one likes dealing with tooth pain, but thankfully, there are plenty of easy ways to prevent it or catch dental issues early. The key to prevention is a great at-home oral hygiene routine, which should include brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, flossing at least once a day, and using mouthwash every day. 

During your oral hygiene routine, keep an eye out for warning signs of potential oral health issues, such as worsening tooth sensitivity and gums that bleed when you floss even though you floss regularly. If you notice issues like these, schedule an appointment with your dentist to allow them to identify and treat it while it’s still minor.

Visiting your dentist for a dental checkup every six months is also an essential part of both prevention and early diagnosis. The professional dental cleaning you receive during these visits removes plaque and tartar from your teeth, actively helping to prevent decay, and gives your dentist the chance to thoroughly examine your oral health. 

This allows them to spot issues such as cavities, gum disease, failing dental fillings, or cracks in your teeth before they develop into larger issues. Once they’ve formed, even small cavities can’t heal themselves — they’re only going to get worse without treatment, so it’s important to catch them early. Doing so saves you from the pain of a toothache and means that they can be handled with more minor treatments, often saving you both time and money.

When you’re experiencing tooth pain, the only way to find permanent relief is to seek diagnosis and treatment from your dentist. If you’d like to get to the bottom of your toothache with a family dentist in Bedford, TX, feel free to request an appointment online or call our office to schedule an emergency appointment at any time.