7 Types of Tooth Pain and Possible Remedies
Most of us have already experienced the discomfort of a toothache. Each individual can perceive pain in a different way, so there are probably many ways in which a toothache "can be described".
Nevertheless, we can find some general types of tooth pain based on the symptoms patients are feeling and the possible causes.
What causes tooth pain ?
There can be many causes for tooth pain, such as dental decay, a tooth injury or a chronic or acute infection. Although a cavity is the most likely culprit, it is only one of several possible causes. Moreover, tooth pain might not even be caused by your teeth (for example, the pain of a sinus infection is often felt in the face and teeth).
Generally, it is a good idea to contact the dentist if you have on-going pain or discomfort. This is especially important if:
- You have a toothache that lasts longer than 1 or 2 days
- Your toothache is severe
- You have a fever, feel generally unwell or the pain spreads to the ear, jaw or face
If you have tooth pain, read on to find your symptoms, possible causes and treatment options:
1. Sensitivity to hot or cold foods
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel that protects the teeth gets thinner, or when gum recession occurs, exposing the underlying surface. Tooth sensitivity can be caused by a small cavity or a filling that became loose.
Another cause may be a minimal gum recession that exposes small areas of the root surface which are usually very sensitive to hot and cold stimuli.
If this is the case, you may feel sensitivity to hot and cold foods, but the discomfort lasts only moments. Normally, teeth sensitivity does not signal a serious problem.
What to do
Try brushing your teeth with a soft brush and using fluoride toothpaste, which is specifically made for sensitive teeth. This can ease the sensitivity in the areas where the root surface is exposed.
If this is unsuccessful after several days, it is advisable to see your general dentist.
2. Pain or sensitivity after dental treatment
A dental procedure may inflame the pulp inside the tooth causing temporary sensitivity. This sensitivity should normally go away in a few days.
However, if decay has recently been removed or a filling or crown recently has been placed, a tooth may take a week or two to settle.
Another cause may be a restoration (filling, crown, bridge) that was left too high. In this situation, pain or discomfort is felt when biting down on something or in the jaw muscles or joint.
What to do
Most often, the pain will gradually go away after some weeks. You can take some mild pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen to improve the situation.
If the pain persists or worsens, it is very important to contact your dentist.
When a restoration was left too high, a bite adjustment is required. In this case, it is equally important to see the dentist as soon as possible.
3. Sharp pain when biting down on food
There are several possible causes of this type of pain: decay, a loose filling or cracked tooth. There may also be damage to the pulp tissue inside the tooth or the periapical tissue underneath the tooth.
What to do
See a dentist for evaluation. If the problem is pulp tissue damage, the dentist will perform a root canal therapy. Generally, there is no need for tooth removal, although these situations are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
A cracked tooth may be difficult to treat: the treatment approach depends on the location and depth of the crack and whether it involves the pulp.
4. Lingering pain after eating hot or cold foods
Most of the times, this means the pulp has been damaged by a deep decay that has penetrated through the enamel and dentin to reach the pulp. This condition is called pulpitis.
What to do
See your dentist as soon as possible. This is very important as the pain can become severe due to the development of an abscess.
While you're waiting to see a dentist, painkillers may help control your pain, but they will only improve the situation for a limited time.
If less damage to the pulp tissues has occurred, after the removal of decay and the placement of a restoration, the pulp can return to its healthy state.
However, if irreversible damage to the pulp tissue has occurred, a root canal therapy is required to save the tooth.
5. Constant and severe pain, possible swelling of gum and sensitivity to touch
These are normally the signs of a dental abscess, causing an infection in the surrounding tissue and bone. However, an acute abscess may be painless but still have a swelling present on the gum.
An abscess is generally caused by a pulp infection that has spread from the pulp into the surrounding periodontal tissues and bone.
What to do
See your dentist to relieve the pain (this can include treatment with antibiotics and/or drainage) and save the tooth with a root canal therapy. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen will help minimize symptoms until you are treated.
When the tooth cannot be restored or the infection is very advanced, the patient can be advised to have the tooth extracted, followed by apical curettage to clear up the infection.
6. Intense and constant pain from an area, but difficult to say exactly which tooth is causing the problem
These symptoms may also mean the pulp inside a tooth is infected and possibly dying. This is generally in response to a dental decay coming very close to or entering the nerve.
What to do
See a dentist immediately, as untreated, the pain could become worse. You can take some pain relievers until you are treated.
After a careful examination, your doctor will identify the problematic tooth. A root canal treatment is usually required to relieve the pain and save the tooth.
7. Dull ache and pressure in the upper teeth and jaw
As previously mentioned, tooth pain is not always caused by your teeth. Sinus pain can feel like tooth pain and vice versa.
Sinus congestion or a sinus infection can cause pain in the upper teeth. The pain is felt in the sinus area of the face and is often associated with the upper back teeth.
Other conditions may cause pain that is felt in the face and teeth. For example, bruxism (a condition characterized by the excessive grinding of the teeth and/or excessive clenching of the jaw) can also cause pressure in upper teeth and jaw.
What to do
The best idea is to contact the dentist; he or she will evaluate if the symptoms are dentally related and devise a treatment plan accordingly.
It is important to remember that many dental conditions do not become visible or cause pain until they reach more advanced stages. Consequently, regular dental visits are essential for the maintenance of healthy teeth and gums.
Last review and update: February 2019