Tooth Pain Causes and Treatment Options

Toothache, any pain or soreness in or around a tooth, can be a frustrating and unpleasant experience. In addition to feeling a sharp or dull pain, your teeth may be sensitive to temperature. You may also experience pain when chewing or biting.

Trauma, tooth sensitivity, cavities, or infection can trigger toothaches.

This article explains common and rare causes of toothache. It also includes when it’s best to see a doctor, how to diagnose a toothache, and preventive measures and treatment options.

What causes toothache?

Common causes of toothache include:

  • gum disease
  • Tooth decay
  • sensitive teeth
  • BruxismGrinding teeth while awake and/or asleep
  • Oral trauma resulting in cracked teeth
  • Tooth abscess, which is an infection in the center of the tooth
  • Impacted teeth, that is, teeth that do not break through the gums or only a little
  • Inflammation of the pulp, also known as pulpitiswhich can trigger pain in the center of the tooth

Is there a link between your headaches and toothache?

gum disease

gum disease, or periodontitiswhich is characterized by gum infection.

More specifically, gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease, where the gums become inflamed, warm, red, and swollen.

Both gingivitis and periodontitis can cause mild or severe pain. Usually, the more severe the pain, the more severe the infection.

Tooth decay

Tooth decay is the progressive destruction and cavity formation of the outer surface of the tooth or enamel.

Plaque is a layer of sticky bacteria that forms on tooth enamel and feeds on sugars and starches in food particles in the mouth. This creates an acid that eats away at the enamel, causing weak areas and holes. Over time, tooth enamel breaks down and forms cavities.

As the decay spreads inward toward the middle layer of the tooth, called the dentin, it can cause pain and sensitivity.

sensitive teeth

Tooth sensitivity is caused by exposed dentin. This can be the result of cavities, worn fillings, receding gums, or cracked teeth.

Tooth sensitivity is associated with rapid, severe pain when exposed to triggering situations, such as brushing teeth or exposure to cold air.


Bruxism is characterized by clenching and grinding of the teeth and can occur while sleeping or awake.

Over time, it can cause tooth sensitivity, as well as tooth or facial pain.

pulp inflammation

Pulpitis is a condition that occurs when the tissue in the center of the tooth (also called the pulp) becomes inflamed and inflamed. This can lead to pain and intense sensitivity to various things, such as temperature.

Conditions that can trigger pulpitis include:

  • Tooth decay
  • dental trauma
  • Multiple procedures done on teeth
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Pulpitis may or may not be reversible. If so, the pain or sensitivity stops within seconds of removing the trigger. If the pulpitis is irreversible, the pain may last a few minutes after the trigger is removed.

cracked tooth

Cracked teeth can be caused by trauma to the mouth, severe grinding, or biting on hard objects.

Symptoms of a cracked tooth can include severe pain when biting or chewing, as well as temperature and food sensitivities.

The five types of cracked teeth include:

  • Crack lines, which are shallow, thin cracks in the outer enamel
  • A broken cusp, which occurs when a piece of the chewing surface of a tooth falls off, usually around a filling
  • Cracked teeth, which are cracks that extend from the chewing surface of the tooth to the root of the tooth
  • Cracked teeth, which is when a tooth splits into two parts
  • Vertical root fractures, which are cracks in the root of a tooth that can go unnoticed until an infection occurs


Tooth abscesses, which can be caused by untreated tooth decay or pulpitis, are caused by the accumulation of bacteria in the pulp cavity of the tooth.

An infected pulp cavity attempts to expel itself from the tip of the root, which lies beneath the pulp. This can cause severe pain and swelling.

impacted tooth

When teeth cannot move into the proper place in the mouth, they can be affected.

Wisdom teeth are often affected because they are usually the last to break through. Impact can cause pressure, pain, and swelling.

Ludwig’s Angina

Ludwig’s angina, also known as submandibular space infection, is a rare sublingual oral infection. It can be caused by oral trauma or a dental abscess.

This infection is very serious and can spread quickly. If the infection spreads to a person’s airways, breathing can become difficult.

When should I see a doctor for a toothache?

Make an appointment with your dentist if:

  • Your toothache is causing severe pain
  • You have a fever
  • your face and/or mouth is swollen
  • Your toothache won’t go away

In addition to visiting your doctor for a toothache, be sure to schedule regular, professional dental cleanings to keep your teeth and mouth healthy.

How is a toothache diagnosed?

To determine the cause of your toothache, your healthcare provider may take your medical history, give you a physical exam, and have you undergo imaging tests, such as X-rays.

medical history

To narrow down the possible causes of your dental discomfort, your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your symptoms.

These questions may focus on the location of the pain, possible triggers, and how long you experienced the discomfort. They may also ask if you have any other symptoms, such as swelling or fever.

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physical examination

After taking your medical history, your dentist will examine your mouth and face for swelling. During an oral exam, your dentist will check the inside of your mouth, including your gums, for inflammation. They will also check for signs of infection.

For symptoms that are more likely to be worrying, such as fever or vision problems, your dentist may perform a cranial nerve exam, focusing on the head.

what you can expect from a dental exam

Imaging and other tests

After your physical exam, your doctor may want to do a dental X-ray to check for abscesses, cavities, or any other problems.

Computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests can be used to diagnose rare diseases such as Ludwig’s angina.

What else can cause a toothache?

Sometimes tooth pain or sensitivity has nothing to do with your teeth at all. Other conditions that can cause toothache include:

  • sinus infection, which can cause pain or make your teeth feel sensitive
  • temporomandibular joint disorderor TMJ, refers to a dysfunction of the jaw joint that may cause pain or tenderness that worsens with jaw movement and chewing

If your symptoms point to one of these, or a dental problem has been ruled out, you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist called an ENT for evaluation.

How do you treat a toothache?

Depending on the underlying cause, there are many ways to treat a toothache. Treatment may include medications, mouthwashes, oral devices, and medical procedures.

Most conditions that cause toothache can worsen or cause additional concern if not addressed early, so it is best to evaluate and start treatment as soon as possible.


Your dentist may recommend or prescribe various medications:

  • For pain relief, your dentist may recommend Tylenol (acetaminophen) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Such as Motrin (ibuprofen).
  • For severe pain, your healthcare provider may prescribe opioid pain relievers.
  • If you have an abscess, pulpitis, gingivitis, or periodontitis, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics such as amoxicillin.

Mouth rinses and topical fluoride

Mouthwashes include:

  • Chlorhexidinereduces bacteria in the mouth and can be used to treat gingivitis
  • Fluoride rinses, which can be used to prevent or treat cavities and gum disease

For sensitivity and pain, your dentist may apply fluoride to your teeth and recommend a fluoride toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth.

Oral instruments

If you have sleep-related bruxism, your dentist may recommend that you wear an oral device, such as a mouthguard, at night. Over-the-counter medications that fit your teeth are the most affordable option, but custom guards made from dental molds are often more comfortable and durable.

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While a mouthguard can protect your teeth from damage, it won’t reduce the number of bruxism attacks. With this in mind, you may also want to work on potential bruxism triggers, which may include stress, anxiety, and anger.

dental procedure

Various dental procedures may be required to treat certain conditions.

  • For cavities and cavities, the main treatment is to remove the cavities by drilling. The removed area is then restored with a strong material called a filler.
  • For irreversible pulpitis, your dentist may perform root canal treatment to remove the infected pulp.
  • For an abscess, your doctor may make a small incision and drain the infected pocket.
  • Depending on the extent of the damage, cracked teeth may require fillings, root canals, or extraction and replacement.

How to prevent toothache?

To prevent cavities, gum disease, and tooth sensitivity, try to maintain good oral hygiene by:

  • Gently brush your teeth twice a day and use fluoride toothpaste
  • floss daily
  • drinking fluoridated water
  • Regular professional dental cleanings
  • do not smoke
  • Avoid habits such as biting a pencil or fork


Toothache can be caused by infection or disease, oral trauma, general sensitivity, or inflammation. Be sure to contact your doctor if you have a very painful toothache, fever, or swelling of your face or mouth.

Toothache treatment will vary based on your diagnosis. But whether you need medication, an oral device, or something else, the sooner you get treatment, the better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the common causes of toothache?

    Common causes of toothache include:

    • gum disease
    • Tooth decay
    • clenching and grinding teeth

  • What are the symptoms of a wisdom tooth infection?

    Symptoms of an infected wisdom tooth may include:

    • tingling
    • swelling in the tooth area
    • fever
    • Inflamed gums
    • hard to swallow
  • Why are my teeth sensitive?

    Teeth can become sensitive due to cavities, cracked teeth, worn fillings, gum disease, or brushing too hard. More specifically, sensitivity increases when dentin is exposed. This is the material that makes up the middle layer of the tooth, between the enamel and the pulp.

  • How can I relieve the pain of an abscessed tooth?

    There are several ways to relieve pain from a tooth abscess before you can see a dentist or a healthcare professional for treatment:

    • Use a cold compress to help relieve pain and inflammation.
    • Gargle with warm salt water several times a day.