When a tooth ache occurs, most people assume it is due to a cavity. While this may, indeed, be the case, a tooth ache can emerge for other reasons as well. These include:
Tooth’s Interior – In addition to a a cavity, a tooth ache can occur from a crack in the tooth, a fractured tooth root, or dead tooth nerve (which requires a root canal). Digital imaging (an ‘x-ray’) will reveal the details of the tooth’s interior so the ache can be treated at its source.
Gingivitis – This initial-stage of gum disease can begin without obvious warning signs. When they do become noticeable, one may be a sore sensation in the gums in a particular location, which can mimic a cavity. This can be especially true with back teeth that brings on a deep aching sensation. Sore gums can also be accompanied with seeing blood in the sink during tooth brushing or flossing in the area. Fortunately, early intervention can halt the progress of gingivitis to avoid the more destructive levels of periodontal (gum) disease. This includes a thorough dental cleaning and committed home care regimen. The time in treatment and expense you’ll save is well worth the effort, though.
Gum recession – When gum tissues loosen their tight grip around the base of a tooth, more sensitive, darker areas of the tooth are exposed. This is actually the root portion of the tooth. Sensitivity occurs because this part of the tooth is full of nerves and lacks the protective enamel shell of the tooth above the gum line. Gum recession can cause an ache or a jolt from the bristles of a toothbrush or drinking anything hot or cold. Receded gums allow entry of oral bacteria into more vulnerable areas, leaving you more likely to develop gum disease.
A filling that is failing – Does a short, sharp, or dull tooth pain occur in the area of an existing filling? If so, a damaged filling may be the problem. Fillings can be disrupted by trauma to a tooth (like a hard hit to the mouth, night-time grinding or biting down too hard). Additional decay in the surrounding area may also be the problem.
Tooth grinding – Known as bruxing, this occurs typically during sleep and can eventually cause teeth to ’tilt’ out of their proper positions. As teeth pull against one side of gum tissues, the tissues eventually release their grip around teeth.
TMJ disorder – What may seem to be “tooth pain” may actually be generalized jaw pain. If you have an imbalance in your temporo-mandibular joints (TMJ), you may be experiencing discomfort when chewing or an inability to fully open the mouth. A “tooth ache” may seem to exist due to pain that is radiating towards the mouth.
Wisdom teeth – If you still have wisdom teeth, tooth pain that comes and goes may indicate (1) they don’t have sufficient room to emerge; (2) a cavity is developing; (3) an infection is developing; or (4) damage has occurred in a neighboring tooth. Digital imaging will allow us to determine what is occurring beneath the surface.
Sinuses – Pressure from inflamed sinuses or a sinus infection can radiate out to the upper teeth in close proximity. This can cause dull tooth and facial pain. The sensation should subside as sinus inflammation is eased.
Over-rigorous brushing – The reason you should use a medium or soft bristled toothbrush is so tender gum tissues are not subjected to wearing down. Too, using baking soda or other abrasive substances can wear away gum tissues, which do not regenerate. Once gone, they are gone for good (unless gum grafting procedures are performed).
To determine the true source of your ache, an examination and imaging will reveal a cavity, signs of gum recession or the presence of gum disease. Your regular dental check-ups and cleanings are structured to help you avoid problems that contribute to toothaches. If you haven’t been able to have regular 6-month dental visits, it is never too late to schedule an appointment. (Keep in mind that we are a ‘lecture-free’ zone!)
When it comes to a toothache, this is a clear sign that something is wrong. It’s to your advantage to see a dentist as soon as you can. The longer you wait to treat tooth pain, the more invasive, costly, and painful treatments tend to be.
What can you do until your appointment? For a mild toothache, it may help to rinse your mouth with warm water several times a day. Brush gently around the area twice a day and floss your teeth, being careful to avoid ‘popping’ the floss between teeth (which can cut into already-tender gum tissues).
Over-the-counter medications can help. For “pain” that is worse than an ache, a combination of Advil (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen) can provide more relief than taking just one or the other. Take the recommended dose of each at the same time but no more frequently than recommended.
If the ache is accompanied by a fever, contact our office immediately. This is also true for symptoms that don’t go away after two weeks.
Also, avoid sugar. Sugar-laden foods and beverages ramp up the bacteria and acids that form plaque. This sticky coating on teeth and gums is able to dissolve the enamel that protects teeth. It attacks your tooth structure and bores into the tooth, leading to a cavity.
Remember, very few problems in the mouth are going to resolve on their own. Seeing a dentist sooner than later can save you much in treatment time and expense. Waiting can require more extensive treatment (thus, more time and greater expense) in the future. Delayed treatment can also lead to lengthier healing time.
Call 219-987-5733 to learn more OR to schedule a no-charge consultation OR to make an appointment. New patients are always welcome! If you were once a patient and haven’t been seen in a long time, we will be happy to see you again as a ‘new’ patient!