Why Do I Have a Toothache?

Woman suffering from toothache tooth pain.

A persistent, nagging toothache can be a real pain – and not knowing the cause can make it seem even worse. There are several possible reasons for the pain and sensitivity in your teeth, from cavities to issues with your gums.

Even if you brush your teeth twice a day and floss regularly, it’s still possible to develop tooth decay that leads to a cavity. Food, especially those with sugar or carbohydrates, is broken down by bacteria and saliva in the mouth, which eventually forms plaque that sticks to teeth and under the lining of the gums. If it isn’t removed fully or quickly enough, it causes the protective layers of the teeth – the enamel is the outer layer, and dentin is the inner one – to wear away. With a compromised protective layer, teeth become more sensitive, and over time, a cavity can form.

Pain that comes from thinning enamel or a developing cavity may feel steady and throbbing, or it may come on when eating or drinking something hot, cold, or acidic. A sharp, stabbing pain that occurs when you bite down could be caused by an already-formed cavity, a cracked filling, or a cracked tooth. Fillings or teeth can fracture when you bite into something too hard, from candy to nuts to stray debris, although you may not notice when it happens.

An infection – whether following oral surgery, from gum disease, or a cavity – can form an abscess in the root of the tooth or between the gums. An abscess is a type of infected pocket. Persistent, throbbing, severe, or sharp pain can be a sign of this.

Some people grind their teeth when stressed, or while sleeping – this repetitive action can damage the teeth as well as cause tension in the jaw. The damage can be the source of your aching teeth.

In some cases, the toothache may not even originate in the teeth: a sinus infection can spread from the nasal cavities to the nerves connected to the teeth. It’s not very common, but if you recently had nasal congestion and are experiencing pain in your upper teeth on both sides, consult your doctor.

Brushing and flossing regularly and avoiding highly sugary or acidic foods are good ways to prevent tooth problems, but it’s also important to see your dentist for regular cleaning and examination. If you have a lingering toothache, consult your dentist.

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