If you’ve ever felt discomfort or pain in your teeth, you’ve experienced something dentists call ‘odontalgia’. That’s a fancy way of saying ‘tooth pain’ and according to a study by the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health, twenty per cent of us will suffer from it at some point in our lives.

Most causes of tooth pain are treatable by your dentist and many are preventable with good oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist. If you experience sudden pain or sensitivity in your teeth or jaw, it’s likely a quick dental examination will be able to discover the cause and your dentist will be able to treat the problem and eliminate the pain—and help you prevent it from recurring.

Six Most Common Reasons Why Your Teeth Might Be Giving You Pain

Toothache can usually be avoided by proper care of your teeth—but not always. Sometimes the pain may not even originate in the teeth. Inflammation in the inner ear,  sinuses, chewing muscles or ligaments around the teeth can all seem like tooth pain. Teeth grinding or clenching can also be a cause of tooth pain. 

You should see your dentist if you experience tooth pain to rule out any serious condition and diagnose s the underlying cause. Leave the diagnosis to the professionals, but if you find yourself wondering ‘why do my teeth hurt?’ between appointments, call your dentist. In the meantime,  the following information may prove helpful.

1. Tooth Decay or Gum Disease

Tooth decay is a slow process that causes small pits or holes in a tooth’s surface. Similarly, gum (or periodontal) disease may take time to develop, but both conditions can cause sensitivity, discomfort and, if left untreated, can lead to infection and tooth loss. Luckily, both can be prevented, treated and maintained with regular brushing, flossing and preventative dentistry.

2. Receding Gums

The pink tissue that blankets the roots of your teeth can recede with age or be damaged by too vigorous brushing. Receding gums may also be a symptom of gum disease (periodontitis)  caused by build up around the teeth that can lead to gum inflammation and infection. If the root of your tooth is exposed, you may feel sensitivity or pain to temperature, brushing or sweet things —and your teeth can become more vulnerable to further wear. Your dentist can help treat this condition, relieve any discomfort and restore protection to any exposed areas. 

3. Enamel Erosion

The outer layer of your teeth is a hard substance called enamel. It protects the tissue beneath, called dentin. Acids in our diet can erode away enamel exposing the dentine which is more sensitive than enamel. If tooth enamel is damaged or worn, eating or drinking anything hot or cold can cause a sharp flash of pain. 

4. Cracked Teeth

It will come as no surprise that a cracked tooth will likely hurt. What may not be so obvious is that these cracks can be so small that they require specific tests to be detected and are not always visible to the naked eye. Cracked teeth can be caused by anything hard striking the tooth as well as grinding and clenching your teeth. . See your dentist if you suspect a cracked tooth, as it may become infected if left untreated.

5. Grinding or Clenching Your Teeth

Also called bruxism, this condition causes some people to press their jaws tightly together or move them from side to side, usually in their sleep. This can cause almost any of the other problems mentioned here, as your jaw muscles create enough force to damage your teeth. Your dentist will be able to offer a solution, such as a nightguard you wear in your sleep.

6. Dental Bleaching Products

Some store-bought tooth whitening strips, bleaching gels and even some kinds of toothpaste intended to lighten your teeth can cause sensitivity in some people.  Your dentist can provide teeth whitening treatments that are safer and more effective—and you can still do them at home if you prefer.

When To See a Dentist

Persistent pain in the teeth, gums, or jaw should be examined by your dentist. Ignoring dental pain now is likely to result in worse pain in the future and put you at risk of tooth loss or other complications. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your dentist immediately.

  • Toothache that lasts longer than a few hours
  • Headache or migraine that causes pain in your mouth
  • Persistent sharp or throbbing pain in the teeth, gums, or jaw
  • Fever that appears alongside a toothache
  • Any swelling in your mouth or jaw

How To Help Prevent Toothaches

Proper care of your teeth and gums can prevent many causes of tooth pain. Brushing twice daily removes plaque from the surface of your teeth and interdental cleaning removes the plaque a toothbrush can’t reach. Plaque left on teeth can lead to tooth decay and gum inflammation. Plaque can also turn into tartar (calculus) which can lead to further gum inflammation and infection. 

Minimizing sugary snacks and drinks is good for your overall health and can prevent toothache as well. Sugar is acidic, clings to the surface of your teeth and can damage the enamel. Bacteria normally present in the mouth convert this sugar to a stronger acid, which may cause tooth decay.

Staying hydrated is important for your dental health, as water helps clean the mouth and rinses away small particles of food and sugars. It won’t replace brushing and flossing but can protect the teeth from some things that may cause damage.

Lastly, visiting your dentist at regular intervals is critically important. Many issues that lead to tooth pain have no early symptoms, but your dentist can correct any small problems before they cause damage.

Summary

Tooth pain can be caused by many different things and not all can be avoided. Even excellent oral hygiene and regular visits to your dentist may not prevent injury or age-related conditions, but these conditions can be treated by a dental health professional. If you experience toothache or pain in your gums or jaw, schedule an appointment with your dentist today. Regular dental visits are key to preventing problems—and can save you from unnecessary suffering.