An aching tooth — or worse, multiple teeth — is a common source of pain that can make even simple things like chewing or drinking water difficult if not impossible. Without a trip to the dentist it can be hard to say for certain, but there are a number of potential causes; the type of tooth pain you experience can help you, and your dentist, identify the source.
A sharp, shooting pain, especially one that flares up when you bite down, can indicate tooth decay (a cavity), a loose filling, or a cracked tooth; it may also be a sign that the sensitive interior pulp of the tooth has been injured. If a pain like this only happens every so often, and doesn’t just occur in one spot, it may not be a problem — it’s possible you just have something stuck in your tooth, for example. But if it recurs in the same area, see your dentist, since you may need a filling, root canal, or other repair.
Sensitivity to temperature, whether hot or cold, is usually not a serious problem. The most likely reason is minor decay, or receding gums, which expose more nerves. Switching to a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth and being more gentle with brushing can help, but if the pain becomes ongoing or makes it difficult to eat and drink, talk to your dentist. Keep in mind that if you’ve recently had dental work, temperature sensitivity can be a temporary byproduct, although it shouldn’t last more than two to four weeks.
If you have a general, dull, persistent ache in your teeth or jaw, it’s possible you’re grinding your teeth — many people do it unconsciously, or while they sleep. Everyone gets the occasional mild ache or throb, but if you have an ongoing ache for a week or more, see your dentist about getting a mouth guard to wear at night.
Severe, ongoing pain that is sensitive to the touch, combined with swollen gums, can indicate an abscessed tooth, which means the interior tissue, and possibly even the bone, are infected. It’s important to see your dentist for treatment as soon as possible.