What is Your Tooth Pain Telling You?

by | Sep 23, 2019 | Dental Advice

What causes a toothache? It could be a number of things! Only a dentist can properly diagnose the source of your tooth pain.

Diagnosing the issue starts with a thorough and gentle examination. Your dentist may need to take x-rays or digital imaging to get the clearest look at what’s happening in your mouth. From there, your dentist will explain why you’re experiencing pain and help you make a plan for resolving the issue.

What diagnosis might the dentist give you? Keep reading to learn the 5 most common causes of toothaches what these problems mean for your health.

Suffering from a toothache?

Call Ellicott City Smile Care at (410) 964-9816 for an emergency appointment


Ever since you were little, you’ve probably been instructed to take good care of your teeth or risk getting cavities. But what are cavities, really?

A cavity is another name for tooth decay. This decay is caused by bad bacteria in your mouth. If this bacteria isn’t cleared away with proper brushing, flossing, and visits to the dentist, it will eventually turn into a hard and sticky plaque that gnaws away at your enamel.

While small cavities generally don’t cause much pain at first, they’ll continue to grow and spread. Soon this decay will reach the inner layer of your tooth and may even hit your nerve — ouch!

Your dentist can likely repair the cavity — and stop the pain — with a filling. But depending on how advanced the decay is, solving the issue may require a crown or even a root canal.

Tooth fracture

Teeth are really strong, but they’re not impervious to chips, cracks, and breaks. Often these accidents are noticeable right away. Other times, you’ll get a tiny fracture in your tooth without even knowing it. The crack will slowly grow larger until one day, you’ll crunch down on some potato chips or another innocuous food item and suddenly be holding your jaw in pain, wondering what in the world is going on!

Tooth fractures — even when tiny — can cause toothaches. This small crack in the tooth is an open invitation for bacteria, food particles, and water to sneak in and cause irritation or infection in the pulp and nerve.

To repair a tooth fracture and relieve pain, your dentist may use dental glue, a porcelain veneer, filling, or perhaps a dental crown or root canal, depending on the damage.

Tooth infection

Have you heard of a tooth abscess before? An abscess is a pocket of pus that develops in different areas of your tooth as a result of a bacterial tooth infection. A dental abscess can occur in various places in your tooth, including:

  • The tip of your tooth root
  • On the gum next to the root of your tooth and the surrounding tissue and bone

This infection is painful. You’ll likely experience severe pain in your mouth and jaw, and it will often radiate to your ear or even neck, too.

The cause of this infection is typically advanced tooth decay reaching the inner part of your tooth (called the pulp). It can also be the result of an injury, gum disease, or a foreign body becoming embedded in your gums (like a popcorn hull, for example).

Your dentist will help ease the pain and stop the infection with an antibiotic. They’ll determine the best way to treat the issue, which may involve one or more of the following:

  • Draining the abscess and cleaning the area with a saline solution
  • Root canal and crown
  • Tooth extraction and restoration (like a dental implant)

Loose crown

A dental crown is meant to be a durable restoration for your tooth, but accidents do happen. A crown may become loose as a result of various issues, such as:

  • Teeth grinding
  • Cracked tooth
  • Clenching your jaw
  • A blow to the face or other head trauma

When a crown becomes loose — for whatever reason — bacteria may sneak inside, triggering an infection and nerve pain. Thankfully, this is typically an easy fix. Your dentist will clean out your tooth and repair the crown to good as new (or give you a brand new one).

Impacted wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth can be a big pain in the mouth — literally! These teeth are typically quite large, don’t have enough room to grow, and can have problems erupting above the gumline. The result is an impacted tooth — one that grows sideways under the gum.

This impaction creates a lot of pressure in your mouth, and it can cause your whole jaw to feel sore. Some even describe a throbbing pain in the back of their mouth.

If your wisdom teeth are causing problems, it’s in your best interest to talk to your dentist about having them removed. You don’t need these teeth and your health and happiness will be much better off without them!

Toothache pain relief remedies

When you’re in the midst of a severely uncomfortable toothache, sore jaw, or tender gums, the cause of the pain is probably the last thing on your mind. Most important in that moment is making the pain stop!

We can’t stress this enough: the best thing you can do for the pain is call your dentist immediately for an emergency toothache relief appointment. A toothache home remedy can be helpful to ease pain in the meantime, but it won’t solve the source of the problem.

Talk to your dentist and get that visit scheduled. Once that’s done, there are a few simple pain relief methods you can use to ease the discomfort in the meantime.

  • Take over-the-counter pain medication
  • Rinse with warm salt water
  • Use a cold compress for 20 minutes at a time
  • Drink lukewarm peppermint tea or place a warm, wet tea bag against the problem tooth

Toothache? Call us for an emergency appointment!

If you’re in pain, don’t wait! At Ellicott City Smile Care, we offer emergency appointments to help you feel better, fast. New patients are always welcome at our office, especially during a dental emergency.

We want to provide you with compassionate and timely dental pain relief and are here to help. Call us at (410) 964-9816.

 Dr. Stephen Levy

Dr. Stephen Levy

Dr. Levy graduated cum laude from SUNY at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine and trained in a General Practice residency at New York Medical College. He is a member of a number of dental organizations, including the Buffalo-based dental volunteer outreach program, B.O.C.A. Dr. Levy is dedicated to providing the highest quality of patient care with the most up-to-date, advanced dental technologies.