Tooth pain can come on slowly or suddenly. The pain may be aching, throbbing, or dull, and it can range from mild to severe.
Tooth pain can significantly impact a person’s day-to-day life, and some causes of the pain can be dangerous if the person does not receive treatment.
This article looks at some of the main reasons why a tooth might hurt, as well as the treatment options and home remedies for quick relief.
The following are some common causes of tooth pain.
Tooth pain can result from tooth decay.
A person’s teeth are usually covered by a layer of plaque, a substance that contains bacteria. When a person eats or drinks sugary substances, the bacteria produce acid.
This acid can damage the tooth’s enamel — the hard, white, outer layer of the tooth. Worsening damage can cause a cavity to form.
Tooth decay can also cause white or brown spots to appear on the teeth.
Depending on the extent of the damage to the enamel, the person may experience pain and sensitivity to hot or cold drinks or meals.
Sometimes, bacteria are not responsible for acid wearing away at tooth enamel. In this case, a dentist may describe the damage as “dental erosion.” There are many causes.
Exposure to stomach acid can also cause dental erosion.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition that causes stomach acid to move up through the esophagus and into the mouth. Doctors and researchers often find dental erosion in people with GERD and frequent acid reflux.
Also, other researchers note that some people with eating disorders expose their teeth to stomach acid by inducing vomiting.
Symptoms of a dental abscess include:
- throbbing pain in the affected area
- pain when chewing
- pain in the ear, jaw, and neck
- discoloration, tenderness, or looseness of the affected tooth
- swollen, red gums
- swelling and redness in the face
- bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
If the infection spreads, it can cause serious symptoms that require prompt medical attention, including:
- a high fever
- neck or eye swelling
- difficulty swallowing
- difficulty breathing
At the center of the tooth is an area known as the pulp. It houses the tooth’s nerve and blood supply.
Pulpitis occurs when the pulp becomes inflamed. Sometimes, this inflammation is reversible, but sometimes it is not.
The authors of a 2019 review explain that irreversible pulpitis is one of the most common reasons that people seek emergency dental care.
The main symptom of irreversible pulpitis is acute, severe pain. The pain may become more intense when the person exposes their teeth to hot or cold food or drink and may not diminish.
The pain may be so severe that it wakes a person up at night.
Impacted teeth are erupting teeth that have not yet broken through the gums.
In adults, wisdom teeth are a common type of impacted teeth. It can be painful when they erupt through the gums.
Gum disease is inflammation of the gums, often due to poor oral hygiene and plaque on the teeth. Dentists call it periodontal disease, or periodontitis.
Gingivitis is a less severe, nondestructive type of periodontal disease, but without intervention, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis and damage the bones in the mouth.
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- swollen or red gums
- gums that bleed easily during brushing or flossing
- tender gums
- loose teeth
- pain when chewing
- bad breath
Gum disease can also cause receding gums, or gingival recession. Gingival recession is a term for the loss of gum tissue around the teeth.
People can also cause their gums to recede by brushing their teeth too aggressively, especially with hard toothbrushes.
In some cases, receding gums are sore. Also, if the recession exposes any of the root of the tooth, this can cause pain. A tooth’s root is more sensitive and fragile than its enamel.
Sinusitis refers to a person’s nasal cavities becoming swollen or inflamed, often due to an infection.
This issue can cause tooth pain as well as:
- a blocked nose, reduced sense of smell, or both
- green or yellow mucus running from the nose
- bad breath
- a sinus headache
- pain or swelling around the eyes, forehead, and cheeks
- a high fever
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, or TMJ disorders, affect muscles and bones of the jaw.
Traumatic injuries can cause TMJ disorders. In other cases, the cause may be unclear.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the following are typical symptoms of TMJ disorders:
- stiffness of the jaw muscles
- trouble moving or opening the jaw
- popping, grating or clicking of the jaw joint when moving the jaw
- pain in the face, jaw, or neck
TMJ disorders may result from bruxism, which is grinding or clenching the teeth while not chewing. People may grind their teeth while sleeping, for example, and be unaware of it.
Some indications of bruxism include worn-down teeth, sore jaw muscles, and pain in the jaw joint.
Some symptoms of diabetes include:
- feeling very thirsty
- feeling very tired
- blurred vision
- frequent urination
People with diabetes should mention the condition to a dentist or doctor if they are having tooth pain.
If a person experiences mild tooth pain, they may find it helpful to take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
However, severe or persistent pain can indicate an issue that requires medical attention.
Seek advice from a healthcare provider if tooth pain accompanies any of the following:
- red, shiny, or bleeding gums
- a fever
- swelling in the gums, jaw, or face
- pus or discharge in the mouth
- severe or persistent pain in the teeth, gums, or jaw
- pain when biting
- difficulty swallowing or breathing
To relieve tooth pain, a person might benefit from trying:
- OTC pain relief medication
- a saltwater rinse
- a hydrogen peroxide rinse
- peppermint tea
Treatment for tooth pain will depend on the underlying issue. For example:
- Tooth decay and dental erosion: Reducing levels of acid and sugar in the diet can help.
- Cavities: A dentist treats these with fillings or root canals.
- Gum disease and recession: A person can help curb or prevent these issues by practicing good oral hygiene and seeing a dentist for cleanings regularly.
When tooth pain stems from an underlying health condition such as sinusitis, diabetes, or a TMJ disorder, treating the underlying issue should resolve the pain.
It is important to see a dentist for a diagnosis because many causes of tooth pain lead to the same symptoms.
When a tooth that hurts, it can be highly disruptive. There are many common causes of tooth pain, including dental erosion and gingivitis.
Some causes of tooth pain are more serious than others, and many different issues lead to the same symptoms. For this reason, a professional diagnosis is key.
It is always worth seeing a dentist about severe or persistent pain in a tooth.