Toothache. When should you see your dentist?

What causes a toothache?

Toothache or tooth pain usually occurs when the tooth’s nerve is irritated.  There are other causes such as dental infections, gum disease, plaque buildup, tooth decay, injury to the tooth, improperly placed dental restorations, damage to the tooth, tooth loss, and TMJ issues.

Sometimes pain may begin in an area outside of the mouth but that pain may later spread or radiate towards the mouth.  This radiating pain can feel like a toothache.  Causes of radiating pain are usually due to issues with the jaw joint, known as the temporomandibular joint or TMJ.  Other causes can be due to ear, sinus, nerve or muscle issues.

Inflammation of the tooth’s pulp causes most toothaches. The tooth’s pulp contains nerve that are sensitive to pain. When the pulp becomes inflamed, it is known as pulpitis.

Some will feel mild pain which ranges from pressure and hot or cold things when they are exposed to the tooth. If the pain is very strong and lasts for longer than 20 seconds after exposure to hot, cold or pressure, there may be a serious problem.

Severe inflammation of the tooth’s pulp can cause pain to radiate to the ear, cheeks, or jaw. Signs and symptoms to see a dentist include the following:

  • Pain when eating
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods
  • Discharge or bleeding around tooth and gum area
  • Swelling to the area around the tooth, jaw or cheek
  • Injury to the area
  • Dental decay in the area of pain

Taking over the counter medication for pain can help to relieve pain or may mask the pain associated with a toothache.  It is still a good idea to get the pain looked at by your dentist, especially if the pain persists while using pain medication.

Regular and proper oral home care can help to prevent most of the dental issues associated with toothaches.  It is also important to see your dentist regularly so that oral issues can be discovered or monitored before they result in pain or become a larger issue.

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