In life, there are few things more painful than a toothache. This unexpected occurrence can happen at any time and at any place. Keeping the teeth and gums healthy is the best way to prevent toothaches from occurring, but even in healthy mouths, this condition can strike. In this guide, we’ll explore the common signs and symptoms of toothaches, then provide tips on both preventing them occurring and seeking help from a dental professional if they do.
What is a Toothache?
Most people are familiar with the concept of a toothache, but everyone experiences tooth pain differently. In general, a toothache is one where pain radiates from around a tooth or teeth. In some cases, that pain can radiate to the entire mouth, including the jaw, and may even spread to the neck. Toothaches can also cause ear pain, headaches, and stiffness in the neck in severe circumstances.
Some toothaches are transient; in other words, they only occur under certain conditions and subside after a few minutes. Typically, these conditions include eating or drinking hot or cold foods or being exposed to cold environmental conditions. This is referred to as temperature sensitivity. Pressure on areas of the teeth and gums may also lead to toothaches, either chronic or transient.
What Causes Toothaches?
Many factors may contribute to toothaches. In general terms, a toothache is a sign that something else is wrong in the mouth. The most common source of toothaches is any condition that allows bacteria to get below the gum line. These conditions include:
- Cracked or broken teeth
- Gum disease, including gingivitis and periodontitis
- Tooth sensitivities (environmental or hot/cold)
- Tooth decay (dental caries, better known as cavities)
- Impacted adult teeth, particularly wisdom teeth
- Inflammation of the tooth’s inner tissues such as the pulp and nerves
- Loose or missing tooth fillings
- Loose, missing, or broken tooth crowns
Although not related to damaged teeth or gums, sinus infections can also result in toothaches. Toothaches may also occur when a person clenches the jaw or grinds the teeth, such as during sleep or in stressful situations.
Treating Toothaches: Dentists to the Rescue
The key to treatment of toothaches is seeking help from a dental professional. Severe pain associated with the teeth and gums can indicate a more serious problem. Emergency dentists may be needed to deal with the discomfort.
The dentist begins by evaluating the teeth and gums, looking for underlying conditions that have led to pain. Diagnosis may include visual inspection as well as x-rays or other imaging. In the evaluation, tooth cracks or decay are commonly identified. For toothaches resulting from bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Once the underlying cause is identified, treatment can begin. Tooth cracks and decay are repaired through the use of crowns or fillings. In severe cases, damaged teeth may need to be extracted.
Preventing Toothaches from Occurring
It is important to understand that not all toothaches are preventable. In general, however, good oral health is the foundation of a preventative solution for avoiding these painful conditions. Dentists recommend brushing at least twice a day or more if sugary or acidic foods are consumed. Flossing the spaces between the teeth helps remove plaque and food particles that can contribute to tooth decay, which often results in toothaches. People with tooth sensitivities should avoid consuming excessively hot or cold foods and drinks to prevent toothaches from occurring. Special toothpastes can help reduce tooth sensitivity; ask your dentist for recommendations.
For those who engage in certain contact sports, a fitted mouthguard can help to protect teeth from injury. Remember that cracks and broken teeth are a primary source of toothaches. With a mouthguard in place, the teeth receive additional protection.
Finally, it is always a good practice to schedule routine visits to your family dentist. Your dentist evaluates your mouth every time you visit, and can identify problems before they become worse. With daily brushing, flossing, and routine dental checkups, you can prevent many of the causes of toothaches.