7 Common Causes of the Dreaded Toothache

If you’re among the few people who have never experienced a toothache, count yourself lucky. As for the rest of us, we’re all too familiar with the discomfort that accompanies dental aches and pains—and we can easily rattle off a list of symptoms.

The primary symptom of a toothache is obvious: It is, quite literally, an aching sensation in a tooth. This ache might fluctuate or remain constant, and it can range in intensity from mild discomfort to all-consuming pain. Depending on the cause of the toothache, other symptoms might include swelling around the sore tooth, pus or discharge near the source of the pain, fever, headache, and escalated pain when chewing.  

If you’re suffering from a toothache, you probably don’t care too much about the cause—you just want the pain to stop. Nevertheless, it’s important to work with your dentist to properly identify where toothaches are coming from so they can be treated effectively. Here are seven common culprits.

Tooth decay

Cavities are easily the most common cause of toothaches. In fact, one of the early warning signs of tooth decay is a toothache that occurs in response to eating very cold, very hot, or very sweet foods. Extreme tooth decay has the potential to lead to a tooth abscess, which can provoke especially intense pain in the tooth.

Tooth sensitivity

Even if you aren’t experiencing tooth decay, you may simply have teeth that are sensitive to cold and/or hot temperatures. This can result in a toothache whenever you consume foods or beverages at one or both ends of the temperature extreme.

Misaligned teeth

When your teeth don’t line up properly, they can push up against each other when you chew, talk, or clench your jaw. Over time, this can lead to aches and pains.

Teeth grinding

Just as the grinding of misaligned teeth can result in toothache, so too can the more forceful teeth grinding (aka “bruxism”) that happens in your sleep or in moments of high stress. The pain caused by grinding the upper and lower teeth against each other may radiate into the jaw and neck; in severe cases, it may even result in cracked or chipped teeth, which further adds to tooth pain.

Gum disease

Both gingivitis and periodontal disease are characterized by infection of the gums, but the inflammation that occurs along the gum line can affect the teeth as well. It’s a double whammy: Not only do your gums hurt, but your teeth might too.

And speaking of gums: Receding gums may also contribute to toothaches, because when gums contract they expose more sensitive parts of the tooth.

Tooth trauma

There are many ways that teeth can be cracked, chipped, or otherwise fractured, from a collision during a sporting event to a face-first fall or a car crash. No matter the source of the fracture, it will invariably result in a toothache.

Damaged dental work

Loose, broken, or damaged fillings, crowns, and dental implants can all contribute to tooth pain because they’re no longer doing their job of protecting the tooth (or teeth). This leaves the tooth exposed to bacteria, extreme temperatures, and other potential sources of pain.

No matter the cause: If your tooth pain is severe, you’ve experienced a toothache for two days or more, or your toothache is accompanied by a fever, discharge, or swelling (or if you experience intermittent toothaches on a regular basis), it’s time to head to the dentist. They will work to identify the cause of the toothache and set you up with a proper treatment plan.

Whether you regularly suffer from toothaches or you’re lucky enough to have avoided them for most of your life, the best prevention is stellar oral health. Make sure you’re brushing properly, flossing every day, and visiting your dentist on a regular basis, and you’ll decrease your risk of having to make a special appointment to cope with the dreaded toothache.