Getting to the Root of the Problem: 5 Causes of Tooth Pain

painful cracked split tooth abscess abscessed worn wear

Painful Tooth- Do Not Ignore

Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth

Don’t ignore that tooth pain. It will most likely come back to haunt you.

Causes of tooth pain

Tooth pain can happen for a range of reasons. Tooth decay is behind most of these. Here are some of the most common culprits of tooth pain:

abscessed tooth painful throbbing temperature sensitive swollen swelling

Treat Abscessed Teeth

1. An abscessed tooth is caused by a bacterial infection in the tissue surrounding the tooth. A sac of pus (a group of white blood cells, dead cells and dead tissue that collects at the site of bacterial infections) forms either:

– At the root of the tooth
– Between the gum and tooth

This is a serious infection that must be treated by your dentist. If the abscess doesn’t drain, the infection can spread to your head and neck and can become a very serious illness.

gum disease pain recession root exposed painful gums

Gum Recession Exposes Roots- Result Tooth Pain

2. Gum disease (periodontal disease) is a bacterial infection of the gums. It can range from mild gum swelling to serious damage of the tissue and bones that support the teeth. It can:

– Cause tooth decay
– Cause the gums to separate from the tooth and form deep pockets where infection can flourish
– Lead to tooth loss

Early treatment for gum disease is crucial. The success of treatments depends largely on how far along and how serious your gum disease is.

decay decayed tooth pain teeth

Decay Can Lead to Pain

3. Cavities are not just a problem for children. Adults can get them too. Dental cavities, or caries, are caused by tooth decay. Tooth decay stems from plaque buildup. Plaque is a sticky bacterial film that covers the teeth. Every time you eat or drink, plaque releases acids that destroy tooth enamel. When the enamel breaks down, cavities can form.

Your dentist will need to treat the cavity in order to save your tooth.

bruxism tooth wear attrition

Tooth Wear Causes Pain

4. Bruxism. Grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw is called bruxism. It can lead to headaches, a sore jaw and sometimes tooth pain. Bruxism usually happens when people sleep and can be a result of:

– Stress
– Anxiety
– Sleep disorders
– Abnormal bite
– Missing teeth or crooked tooth

Your dentist can often make a nighttime mouth guard to help protect your teeth while you sleep.

TMJ TMD dysfunction jaw facial pain headache toothache

Jaw Problems Can Refer Pain to Teeth

5. Referred pain from sinusitis, an ear infection or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). The tooth pain may be accompanied by pain in the jaw and face. This kind of toothache is often referred pain caused by a sinus or ear infection. TMJ, a disorder that prevents the muscles, bones, ligaments and discs in the jaw from working properly It can cause jaw pain, facial pain and headaches that can mimic toothaches.

Other causes of tooth pain

– Injury to the tooth
– Abnormal bite
– Loose filling
– Tooth eruption – when a new tooth comes in (only in babies and young children)
– Heart attack. Pain around the jaw can be a symptom of a heart attack. If you have any symptoms of a heart attack – chest pain, discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach, shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness – call 9-1-1 right away.

When to call the dentist
No matter what’s behind your toothache, it’s best to call your dentist as soon as the pain starts. Even if the pain goes away on its own, you may still need medical treatment. Your dentist will get to the root of the problem and let you know what your treatment options are. The call could save your tooth.

Preventing future problems
Many causes of tooth pain – such as infection, gum disease and cavities – can be prevented. Practice good dental care to reduce your risk of future problems:

– Brush your teeth two times each day.
– Floss once each day.
– Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
– Do not smoke. If you do, quit.
– See your dentist for checkups as often as he or she suggests.

From 10-29-2010 Photo illustrations Added Blane J. Nasveschuk, DMD

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