What Can Cause a Toothache?


Toothaches are easy to diagnose, but can have several different causes. Among these are tooth decay, tooth fracture, abscess, and gum disease. Common symptoms are a sharp or throbbing pain, swelling, fever or headache, and drainage in the mouth (which may have a bad taste).

The most common reason for a toothache is tooth decay, which is caused by infected cavities in the structure of the tooth (either the enamel or dentin, depending on how severe the cavity is). When bacteria in the mouth break down remnants of your meals, especially sugary or starchy foods, the byproducts are acids that can dissolve the enamel of the tooth. These acids combine with food debris and saliva to form plaque, which coats teeth, increasing the rate of enamel decay. Plaque can be very hard to get rid of once it builds up. Once these cavities reach the nerves of the tooth, they can cause severe pain.

Another cause of a toothache might be a fracture of the tooth, which can expose a portion of the nerve. Usually this is the result of an accident such as a fall or impact, though a hard bite on the wrong material can also cause a fracture.

An abscess, or infection, of the root of the tooth can also cause toothaches. Infections are commonly caused by severe tooth decay or acute trauma. Pain can be intense and, if left untreated, an infection can kill the root of the tooth and even spread to the jaw and beyond. If you have an abscessed tooth, you may run a fever as your body tries to fight the infection and you may also notice that your lymph nodes are swollen. Antibiotics may be necessary to fight the infection, in addition to over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications to treat the pain and swelling. The abscess may also need to be drained via an incision into the swollen gum, or a root canal may need to be preformed to eliminate the infection completely.

Finally, gum disease, or gingivitis, can cause pain in the mouth that is generally indistinguishable from a toothache. Inflammation and infection of the gum can weaken the sockets that hold teeth in place, causing pain, bad breath, bleeding gums, and eventually tooth loss. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults and should be taken seriously if any symptoms present themselves, especially loose or shifting teeth or changes in “bite”—the way teeth fit together.

If you develop a toothache that lasts longer than a couple days, or it if is especially severe, it is important to see your dentist as soon as possible, you can find most dentist services online at the dentist’s website. A filling may be necessary, or, in extreme cases, a root canal or other dental procedure. Antibiotics may also be prescribed for bacterial infections. Your dentist may prescribe pain medication to temporarily relieve the pain until a permanent treatment can be administered.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; practicing good oral hygiene can stop most toothaches before they start. Always brush your teeth regularly with a fluoride toothpaste, floss at least once daily, and visit a Houston Cosmetic Dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings.