Tooth pain can affect a single tooth or multiple teeth. There are various causes of pain in teeth, including gum disease and weakened tooth enamel.
There are several factors and conditions that can cause all the teeth to hurt suddenly. In some cases, one of these conditions may lead to another.
This article outlines the potential causes of sudden and extensive tooth pain. It also provides advice on when to seek treatment from a doctor or dentist.
There are two stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. People with gingivitis may experience red, swollen, or bleeding gums.
Periodontitis is the later stage of gum disease, during which the gums start to pull away from the teeth. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis. Some potential signs and symptoms of periodontitis include:
- bad breath
- teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold
- gum infections
- dental abscesses
- pain in the teeth or jaw
- a loss of bone underneath the gums
- loose or missing teeth
- a change in the way the teeth come together when a person bites
Treatment for gingivitis involves practicing good oral hygiene and attending regular dental cleanings. These treatments help reduce the bacteria responsible for causing gum disease.
In general, periodontitis requires more extensive treatment. Depending on its severity, the treatment options may include:
Teeth consist of a hardened outer layer, called enamel, and a softer inner layer, called dentin.
Dentin is made up of tiny tubules, which connect to nerves inside the tooth. Weak or worn tooth enamel exposes these tubules, allowing heat and cold to reach the nerves. This results in tooth sensitivity or pain.
Tooth sensitivity tends to occur when a person brushes their teeth or exposes the teeth to hot or cold foods or liquids. The pain may be sudden and sharp. However, some people experience tooth sensitivity as a constant dull ache.
People who have weak or worn enamel on multiple teeth may experience widespread tooth pain.
If there are no signs of dental decay, a dentist may suggest using a desensitizing toothpaste. They may also apply a fluoride gel or desensitizing agent to the affected teeth to help protect the tooth enamel.
If there are signs of decay present, further treatment will be necessary.
A dental cavity is a hole that develops on the enamel surface of a tooth. Untreated cavities may become larger, extending into the deeper structures of the tooth and possibly into the tooth’s pulp or nerve. This can cause pain that may radiate to other teeth or up the jaw.
In some cases, a dental cavity may result in a dental abscess. This is a pocket of infection that can form inside a tooth or deep inside the gum. Some possible symptoms of a dental abscess include:
- red or swollen gums
- sudden or severe pain in the gums, teeth, or jaw
- pain upon biting or chewing
- a swollen face or cheek
- a fever
In order to treat dental cavities, a dentist will need to drill out the cavity and fill the tooth. If the cavity is particularly advanced, a person may require a root canal procedure or a tooth extraction.
A person who has an abscess with swelling and fever will require antibiotics to treat the infection. They will also require treatment for the dental concern that caused the abscess.
In rare cases, the bacterial infection from an untreated abscess can spread into the blood and to other areas of the body. For this reason, people who suspect that they have a dental abscess should seek immediate medical treatment.
Grinding, or “bruxing,” the teeth wears down tooth enamel. It may also damage or break the teeth, causing widespread pain.
People who grind or clench their teeth may also experience the following symptoms:
- jaw or ear pain, especially in the morning
- tension in the facial or neck muscles
- enlarged jaw muscles
In order to prevent bruxism during sleep, a dentist may recommend wearing a mouth guard at night. This prevents the top and bottom teeth from coming into contact with each other.
The following treatments may also be beneficial for people who grind their teeth due to stress or anxiety:
People who have been grinding their teeth for a long time may need extensive dental work to repair any damage.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome is a musculoskeletal condition affecting the TMJ of the jaw. This joint connects the lower jaw to the skull.
People with TMJ syndrome may experience sudden or severe pain in the jaw, ear, or temple. This pain may also radiate to the teeth.
Some other potential symptoms of TMJ syndrome include:
- difficulty moving the jaw
- clicking, popping, or grinding sounds when opening or closing the mouth
- jaw misalignment
- headaches or migraine episodes
- facial swelling
The following factors and conditions can increase the risk of TMJ syndrome:
Treatment for TMJ syndrome depends partly on its cause. Some potential treatment options may include:
Crowded teeth can put pressure on one another, and this can result in pain. They may also cause jaw misalignment when the mouth is closed. Dentists refer to this as malocclusion.
Crowded teeth and malocclusion can cause pressure and pain sensations in one or more areas of the mouth. In some cases, all the teeth may be painful.
Some other potential symptoms of crowded teeth include:
- crooked or overlapping teeth
- pain in the back of the mouth, from the wisdom teeth coming through
- changes in the teeth or the shape of the bite over time
Aside from causing pain, crowded teeth can also harbor bacteria, increasing the risk of dental cavities and other oral health concerns. In order to prevent or treat such issues, a dentist may suggest one or more of the following:
Sinusitis is the medical term for inflammation of the sinuses. The sinuses are the small, air-filled cavities that sit behind the cheekbones and forehead.
Sinusitis can cause sudden pressure and pain in the jaw, and this may radiate to the teeth. Other areas that may be painful or tender include:
- the forehead
- the eye area
- the cheeks
Some other potential symptoms of sinusitis include:
Most cases of sinusitis will improve within 2–3 weeks. During this time, a person can try the following home treatments:
- OTC pain medications and NSAIDs
- nasal decongestants
- warm compresses
If the symptoms persist or the pain is severe, a person should see their doctor. If the sinusitis is a result of a bacterial infection, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
In some cases, a doctor may also prescribe corticosteroid nasal drops to treat the sinus inflammation.
Tooth pain can occur for many reasons. However, it is not possible to diagnose the cause based on pain symptoms alone, so a person should see their dentist if they experience any kind of tooth pain.
Some types of tooth pain indicate a need for immediate treatment. For example, anyone who experiences any symptoms of a tooth abscess should book an emergency dental appointment.
In rare cases, infections from untreated dental abscesses can spread to other areas of the body. This can result in serious health complications.
There are many potential causes of sudden pain in all the teeth. Home treatments such as tooth numbing gels, warm compresses, and OTC pain medications can temporarily dull a toothache.
However, these treatments will not address the underlying cause of the tooth pain.
People who experience any kind of tooth pain should see their dentist for diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Seeing a dentist sooner rather than later can help prevent any oral health problems from worsening.