Tooth pain, or toothache, is usually caused by problems with the teeth or jaws. The degree of tooth pain can range from mildly annoying to excruciatingly painful. The treatments for tooth pain may be as simple as improving your oral health care routine, or as complicated as oral surgery.
Diagnosing Tooth Pain
If you have tooth pain that persists, see your dentist. A dentist may be able to diagnose the cause of your tooth pain based on a dental examination, or x-rays may be needed to identify the exact nature and location of your tooth pain. (1)
Dental Causes of Tooth Pain
The dental causes of tooth pain fall into several categories:
- Damage: Damage to the tooth is a common cause of tooth pain. For example, teeth that are chipped or broken due to trauma can cause tooth pain. Similarly, a broken or damaged filling, crown, or other dental implant can contribute to tooth pain.
- Decay: Tooth decay is one of the most common causes of tooth pain, and it has several degrees of severity. Cavities are holes in the teeth that penetrate the tooth enamel and underlying dentin and which can lead to tooth pain. Abscess, which is an infection of the nerve and pulp inside the tooth, is a more severe form of tooth pain.
- Disease: The symptoms of gum disease (gingivitis) include redness and swelling of the gums, but these symptoms can contribute to tooth pain, as well as gum pain. Other types of disease, including oral cancer, can contribute to tooth pain, too. (1)
Non-Dental Causes of Tooth Pain
Some causes of tooth pain are not directly related to your teeth. If you rule out more obvious sources of tooth pain, your pain could be associated with any of the following conditions:
- Sinus Infection: Swollen sinuses can put pressure on certain teeth, causing tooth pain.
- Cluster Headache: The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, but pressure from a cluster headache has been associated with tooth pain.
- Heart Attack: Pain from a heart attack can radiate into the lower jaw.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, uncontrolled blood sugar can increase your risk for tooth decay.
- Viral Infections: Shingles is an example of a viral infection that can cause tooth pain.
- Nerve Diseases: A condition called trigeminal neuralgia is associated with a sharp pain on one side of the face.
- Drug Abuse: Methamphetamine abuse has been associated with tooth pain.
- Vitamin Deficiency: Inadequate vitamin B12 has been associated with tooth pain. (1), (2), (3), (4)
Treatment of Tooth Pain
If you have a broken tooth or a cavity, a dentist can fix the problem with a crown or filling. Tooth pain due to gum disease may require a technique called “scaling and planing,” in which a dental professional numbs your gums so he or she can use a special tool to remove plaque buildup from above and below the gumline. If you have severe gum disease, a root canal may be needed to remove the decayed tissue within the tooth. After any type of treatment for tooth pain, be sure to follow your dentist’s recommendations for oral care products and a regular oral care routine, and schedule regular dental visits to maintain a healthy mouth. (1), (5)