In the United States, up to 31% of adults have untreated tooth decay. This decay can contribute to increased risk of toothaches and more complicated dental health conditions. Of course, tooth decay isn’t the only thing that causes tooth pain. In fact, toothaches are incredibly common in part because of the wide range of conditions that cause them.
What Causes a Toothache?
A toothache is simply any pain in or around a tooth. This condition has a wide range of possible causes; some of these are incredibly common to the point where most people will face them during their lifetimes while others are rare medical conditions. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common, and a few rare, causes of toothaches…
13. Tooth Decay
Tooth decay, also referred to as dental caries or cavities, are permanent holes in the tooth’s structure. These have a variety of causes, including bacterial infection, smoking, and sugary beverages.
Why Tooth Decay Causes a Toothache
Some tooth decay cases don’t cause toothache, but most eventually lead to this condition. Tooth decay physically weakens the tooth’s structure. This process can expose the underlying dentin (bony bulk of the tooth underneath enamel) and nerves, which are very sensitive to exposure. Tooth decay also tends to get worse over time, which can also lead to toothache.
Much like tooth decay, eruption is a common condition that can cause toothaches…
Eruption sounds intense, but most people experience this process dozens of times throughout their lives. An eruption is just the medical term for when a new tooth starts to emerge from the gums.
Why Eruption Causes a Toothache
This process usually happens during adolescence when we get our adult teeth, but also happens later in life when our wisdom teeth come in. Eruption displaces the old teeth, which can cause toothache on its own or lead to a variety of other conditions that can also cause pain.
Another gum-related cause of toothaches is infection…
11. Infected Gums
An infection of the gums, also called periodontitis in more extreme cases, is a bacterial infection of the gum tissues. This infection can either be located in a small area of the gums or it can spread into the jaw and become a severe medical condition. Because of this wide-ranging impact, infect gums can cause toothaches.
Why Infected Gums Cause a Toothache
Infected gums can cause toothaches for a wide variety of reasons. In lighter cases, the gums become sensitive and inflamed, which can be experienced as a toothache even though the teeth themselves are not damaged. In more extreme cases, the infection can spread into the teeth and jaw that directly leads to actual tooth pain and serious complications.
Some of the causes of toothaches are caused by dental repairs wearing out…
10. Damaged Filling
A damaged filling can lead to a toothache. Fillings are artificial replacements for damaged sections of a tooth, typically done to correct the damage caused by cavities. Fillings not only protect the rest of the tooth and prevent further damage, but they also help restore appearance and functionality. When these fillings become damaged, you can experience a toothache.
Why a Damaged Filling Causes a Toothache
Fillings are wonderful advances in medical science, but they are not perfect. Over time, fillings can become damaged or even fall out. When a filling fails, the tooth is once again exposed to the conditions of a cavity and can quickly form a toothache.
Like a damaged filling, a fractured tooth can quickly cause a toothache…
9. Fractured Tooth
A fractured tooth is caused by severe damage to the physical structure of the tooth. This damage can be from a sports injury, accident, or any other trauma to the tooth.
Why a Fractured Tooth Causes a Toothache
Fractured teeth expose sensitive dentin and nerves to the outside world. This exposure opens up parts of the tooth that are traditionally covered to foreign objects, temperatures, and infection. A fractured tooth will almost certainly cause a toothache.
Sometimes the cause of a toothache might not be visible from the outside, though…
8. Abscessed Tooth
An abscessed tooth is caused by a pocket of pus forming inside the tooth after an infection. This pocket can result in swelling, redness, or be nearly invisible from the outside. Abscesses range in severity with cases becoming easier to detect the more severe they become.
Why an Abscessed Tooth Causes a Toothache
An abscess creates pressure near the base of the tooth. This base is the area where the roots and nerves of a tooth converge; pressure here can create a toothache. In addition, abscesses come with infections that can also cause a toothache in their own right.
An abscessed tooth is a very specific cause for a toothache, but some causes are general…
7. Physical Injury
Physical injury, running from blunt trauma to burns, can cause a toothache. Our teeth are linked into a complicated network of nerves, after all, which means they are sensitive to injury.
Why Physical Injury Causes a Toothache
A physical injury to the head, neck, or jaw can lead to a toothache. This injury can be both inside or outside of the mouth. Even drinking a hot beverage, such as coffee, can burn the gums and lead to a toothache.
If you’ve ever felt that stinging sensation after drinking hot or cold beverages, you could have another leading cause of toothaches…
6. Dentin Hypersensitivity
Dentin hypersensitivity is caused by receding gums. This condition is where your gums do not cover as much of the tooth’s surface as they need to, which exposes a more sensitive part of your tooth known as dentin.
Why Dentin Hypersensitivity Causes a Toothache
Dentin is incredibly sensitive to hot or cold temperatures. Even breathing in cold air can cause pain if too much dentin is exposed. This sensitivity is most commonly triggered by hot beverages, such as coffee, and frozen foods, such as ice cream.
Gums can also be worn down by repetitive physical damage that also harms teeth…
5. Repetitive Motion
Repetitive motion, also known by its medical term bruxism, is caused by a grinding of the teeth or clenching of the jaw. This oral fixation can happen when triggered by stress or can even continue while a person is asleep.
Why Repetitive Motion Causes a Toothache
Over time, bruxism can wear down the surface of the teeth, leaving them more exposed to damage. Bruxism can also strain jaw muscles, leading to pain, crack teeth, or make teeth more susceptible to other dental problems.
Just like our next cause of toothaches, bruxism has a better outcome the sooner it is treated…
4. Impacted Tooth
Impacted teeth are caused by overcrowding in the jaw. This overcrowding can happen while our adult teeth are emerging from the gums or later in life when wisdom teeth start to emerge. The lower wisdom teeth are usually the last to emerge and most likely to become impacted.
Why an Impacted Tooth Causes a Toothache
An impacted tooth needs to be corrected by an orthodontist or a dentist. They aren’t something to ignore; these teeth only cause more damage the longer they are allowed to impact the rest of your teeth. This impaction not only leads to physical pain, but can also contribute to infections, abscesses, and the loss of otherwise healthy teeth.
Most of the causes we have discussed so far have directly caused toothaches, but there are a few things that indirectly cause them, too…
Sinusitis, or a sinus infection, is a condition marked by inflammation and swelling of the sinuses. The sinuses are a system of connected hollow cavities in the skull that improve our voice, lighten the weight of the skull, and produce mucus. When they become infected, toothaches can start.
Why Sinusitis Causes a Toothache
If you’ve ever experienced sinus pressure, you might have a good idea as to how this condition causes toothaches. When the sinuses swell, they exert pressure on many of the sensitive nerves in our face. These nerves include the trigeminal and occipital nerves that connect with the nerves in our teeth.
Another condition that impacts these nerves is heart disease…
2. Heart Disease
One of the warning signs of a heart attack? A toothache. While not all toothaches are connected to heart health, there is a connection between heart-health issues and tooth pain.
Why Heart Disease Causes a Toothache
The nerves that run through our body connect parts of us that might otherwise seem unrelated. The vagus nerve, for example, connects many different parts of our body, including the heart and the jaw. That means that intense pain along the vagus nerve can trigger pain elsewhere. This fact is why a heart attack or heart disease can cause our teeth to hurt.
Since our nerves are responsible for our ability to receive physical sensations, when they become damaged, we can experience wide-ranging pain…
Neuralgia is an intense pain that follows the path of the affected nerve. When it comes to toothaches, trigeminal and occipital neuralgia are two rare culprits.
Why Neuralgia Causes a Toothache
The trigeminal nerve exists on both sides of the face while the occipital nerves arise in the spine and connect in the back of the head. Neuralgia can be caused by tumors, swelling, or anything else that generates chronic stress to the nerve. Because of their proximity to our jaw and teeth, these conditions can be interpreted by the brain as a toothache.
Thankfully, unlike some of our other causes, neuralgia is a fairly rare medical condition.
Toothaches are incredibly common because they can be caused by a wide range of medical conditions; everything from your average cavity to rare nerve disorders can cause tooth pain. If you have been experiencing a toothache that just won’t go away, it’s a good idea to see your dentist to rule out the most common causes first.
Outside of that, regular dental checkups and proper hygiene can go a long way to keeping those painful toothaches at bay!