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What Does a Toothache Mean?

Have you ever wondered what exactly causes a toothache? Well, you’re not alone. While the one common element in all toothaches is pain, toothaches can actually have many causes. A toothache is your body's way of alerting you that something is going on with your teeth. Sometimes, tooth pain is minor and short-lived while other times, the aching in your teeth may be constant and severe.

We've compiled a summary to help you find out everything you need to know about toothaches. This post covers the common causes and misconceptions of toothaches, as well as what you should do if you're experiencing tooth pain symptoms.

What Is a Toothache?

A toothache is a painful sensation in or around a single tooth or several teeth. Toothaches have many causes that range from minor issues such as seeds or popcorn kernels stuck between the teeth to deep tooth decay and advanced gum disease. In some cases, tooth pain may resolve on its own. However, there are times when toothaches are symptoms of serious dental issues.

There are also different types of tooth pain. Some dental conditions cause a constant dull toothache, while others cause tooth sensitivity or throbbing pain. Teeth clenching can injure the mouth's connective tissues and lead to tooth pain. Additionally, changes in the weather can trigger tooth sensitivity in certain people.

Are Toothaches Normal?

Toothaches are never considered normal but tooth pain is common with many dental conditions. In some cases, non-dental issues such as sinus inflammation and stress can lead to tooth pain. Cavities, advanced gum disease, damaged dental fillings or crowns, and even wisdom teeth eruption can cause aching teeth. This can sometimes make it difficult to pinpoint the specific cause — unless you're a dentist! Because toothaches can occur for so many different reasons, the best way to determine if your tooth pain is due to a dental issue is to schedule a dentist appointment as soon as possible.

Common Causes of Toothaches

While cavities are considered one of the most common causes of toothaches, there are several other reasons why your tooth may be giving you trouble. Also, cavities usually don't hurt until they progress and grow in size. If you suspect a cavity is causing your tooth pain, chances are that it's been there for some time. Wondering what else may be causing your toothache? Here are some common culprits:

Dental abscess. A dental abscess is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain around the tooth and gum tissues. Abscesses are often treated with antibiotics and usually indicate an underlying dental issue that must be addressed as soon as possible.

Teeth grinding/clenching. Clenching and grinding of the teeth puts pressure on the teeth and surrounding gum tissues. Grinding and clenching can cause tooth pain and jaw pain.

Sinus infections. Pain in the upper teeth might be due to a sinus infection or inflamed sinuses. The pain may radiate to the sides of the face, and it's most often accompanied by sinus symptoms such as congestion.

Injuries. Impact injuries to the face and mouth can sometimes cause cracked, fractured or broken teeth. These injuries can be painful, and they should always be checked out by a dentist so they can determine if the underlying tooth roots or tissues are damaged.

Tooth sensitivity. Some people with sensitive teeth feel pain when drinking cold or warm beverages, while others may experience temporary sensitivity following dental work. Tooth sensitivity occurs when the tooth enamel becomes damaged or worn down. Some things that can lead to worn or damaged enamel include excessive consumption of acidic beverages, teeth whitening, tooth grinding, and tooth clenching.

what does a tooth ache mean

Common Misconceptions Around Toothaches

There are many common misconceptions about toothaches that range from what causes them to how a toothache should be treated, and some of these ideas are quite unusual!

Did you know that in the Middle Ages, many people believed that toothaches were caused by worms that somehow found their way into the teeth? Some treatments used to coax the tooth worms out included applying honey to the teeth and inhaling smoke! If you're reading this and fear you might have worms in your teeth, don't worry — this idea is just a myth. Experts believe that the idea of "worms" actually comes from the tubules inside the teeth. Tubules are a natural part of the tooth structure that have a "worm-like" appearance.

While modern misconceptions about toothaches don't usually involve worms, there are still many ideas for causes and cures that simply aren't true. Some people believe that rubbing crushed aspirin on an aching tooth can stop the pain and cure the underlying condition. Unfortunately, aspirin can't cure cavities or dental infections. Plus, rubbing aspirin on the tooth can actually irritate the surrounding gum tissues.

Another common belief is that if a toothache goes away on its own or only happens sporadically, there's no need to visit the dentist. While some types of minor tooth pain are short-lived and don't require dental treatment, tooth pain that suddenly stops or comes and goes may indicate a tooth infection or deep decay.

To keep your smile safe and relieve the pain for good, it's always better to talk with your dentist and schedule a check-up if you have any kind of tooth pain.

What to Do If You Have a Toothache

If you have a toothache, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your dentist so they can assess the situation and provide the best treatment to relieve your pain. When you contact your dentist to book your initial appointment, be sure to let them know about your symptoms and the level of pain you're experiencing. This can help them determine if you need emergency dental care.

Your dentist may also offer suggestions on how to help soothe tooth pain while you wait for your appointment. Some helpful home care methods may include taking over-the-counter pain medications, eating soft foods, and rinsing with warm salt water or antiseptic mouthwash.

If you're concerned about an aching tooth or you've got a loose filling or other dental issues that are causing you pain, Risas Dental can help. We offer affordable dental services for adults and kids with flexible payment plans for all budget types. Our bilingual teammates work hard to ensure you're fully informed about our treatments and procedures. We look forward to assisting you with all of your dental needs. We offer a $10 dental exam and x-rays for new patients without insurance, which is a great way to find out what might be causing your toothache. Book your appointment today.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a toothache always require emergency dentistry?

Toothaches don't always require emergency dentistry but it's still a good idea to schedule a dental exam if you have symptoms of tooth pain. Constant tooth pain that's accompanied by fever or swelling around the affected area may be a sign of an abscess or underlying infection. In these cases, emergency dental work might be necessary.

Can stress cause tooth pain?

Constant stress can cause people to clench and grind their teeth, which can indirectly result in tooth pain and sensitivity. If you suspect stress and teeth clenching/grinding may be responsible for your toothaches, your dentist may be able to fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night. Mouth guards create a "buffer" between the top and bottom teeth to help prevent constant pressure. Taking steps to reduce stress in your life can also help stop stress-related tooth pain!

Can a toothache go away on its own?

Some toothaches caused by external factors such as teeth grinding or sinus pressure may go away on their own without the need for treatment. However, it's still important to contact your dentist if you have tooth pain — even if it suddenly goes away. This is because a sudden loss of tooth pain can mean that an underlying nerve has died due to an infection or abscess. Even if the offending nerve stops causing pain, there may still be an infection present.

Does a toothache mean it’s a cavity?

A toothache doesn't always mean it's tooth decay or a cavity. You may feel tooth pain if you grind your teeth at night when you sleep or your tooth may have a small fracture or crack that's causing pain. If you're experiencing tooth pain of any kind, it's always a good idea to schedule a check-up with your dentist so they can determine what's going on with your teeth.

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