Toothaches can come on quickly and painfully, and be very debilitating. They don’t just happen for no reason though – a toothache is normally an indicator of another underlying problem with the teeth or gums that will require a visit to the dentist to get under control.
To help manage the pain in the meantime, there are several effective home remedies that will help ease your toothache before your dentist appointment.
Find out below what the main causes of a toothache are, how to manage the pain and prevent them in future so you can feel your best!
- What causes a toothache?– Tooth decay
– Cracked tooth
– Teeth grinding
– Gum recession
– Gum disease
- How to stop tooth pain fast at home
- How to prevent toothaches
What causes a toothache?
The symptoms of a toothache range from:
- A dull ache to a sharp pain in or around the tooth
- Swelling around the tooth
- Leaking fluid from the tooth
- Sensitivity to hot or cold foods/drinks
- Dark spots on the teeth
- Bad breath
Toothaches can occur for numerous reasons that are best identified with a thorough oral exam and diagnostic tests. This will allow your dentist to accurately determine the source of the pain, so they can advise on the best way to treat it.
The main causes of a toothache include:
- Tooth decay
- Cracked tooth
- Teeth grinding
- Gum recession
- Gum disease
A tooth consists of three layers: the outermost, hardest layer (enamel), the middle, softer layer (dentine) and the centre of the tooth which contains a nerve and blood vessels (pulp). When tooth decay causes damage to the structure of the tooth and moves towards the pulp, this can cause a toothache.
Tooth decay (also known as dental caries or cavities) is often caused by improper brushing, flossing and generally poor oral hygiene. It can also occur as a result of consuming an excess of sugar or acidic foods and drinks which deteriorate the structure of the teeth.
If tooth decay is discovered early, it often won’t cause pain and can also be treated without adding pain. If the dental caries move further into the tooth closer to the nerve in the pulp, it can then cause a toothache.
If your dentist believes you have caries, they will usually take an x-ray to confirm the size and extent of decay and check if there is an infection, alongside a clinical examination. This will help them decide on the most effective treatment plan.
Infection can occur as a result of:
- Tooth decay which moves towards the nerve
- Inadequate oral hygiene, flossing or professional cleans which then causes infection to the ligament and tissues surrounding the tooth
- An impacted tooth (most commonly a wisdom tooth)
- Gum disease
In some cases it may be evident visually in the form of facial and neck swelling or a visible abscess. This can be in addition to the pain, which can be persistent, throbbing and intense. Some patients may also develop a fever, and the pain may even subside if the abscess bursts.
Infections can also be determined by pain or sensitivity when eating or drinking, and if you believe you do have an infection it’s very important to make an appointment with your dentist so they can confirm the issue, prescribe antibiotics if necessary to relieve your symptoms followed by suitable treatment, which will prevent more infection down the track.
Any tooth can become cracked, but it most often occurs in molars and premolars. Cracking usually happens from grinding or clenching, past trauma or significantly sized fillings.
Cracked tooth symptoms include:
- Sharp pain when consuming hot, cold or high-sugar foods and drinks
- Sharp pain when pressure is applied and released on the tooth
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, occurs when you involuntarily clench or grind your teeth a lot. Often it’s caused by stress and occurs mainly while sleeping.
Symptoms of bruxism include:
- Sensitivity to hot and cold foods
- Tooth pain
- Pain or stiffness in the jaw
- Overly worn, flattened, chipped, broken or loose teeth.
Your dentist can complete an extensive check up of your teeth and jaw to determine if bruxism is the source of your toothache.
Gum recession is a condition where the gums begin to move down away from the tooth to expose the surface of the root. This part of the tooth isn’t covered in the same solid enamel as the main, visible part of the tooth, so it can be easily worn down if scrubbed too hard with your toothbrush (called “abrasion”) and lead to sensitivity.
Sensitivity can be minimised using sensitive toothpaste, or alternatively your dentist may recommend gum grafting treatment to cover up the exposed tooth root and avoid the sensitivity from becoming worse.
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Red, swollen and bleeding gums
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
Discomfort, pain and gum condition will improve with a thorough professional clean, and this treatment for gum disease will need to be ongoing and consistent.
Other reasons you may experience a toothache include:
- Sinusitis: Inflammation of the sinuses which can affect the nearby upper teeth
- Neuropathy: Inflammation or damage to the nerves inside the teeth, which can cause pain, tingling or burning
- Cysts: Sacs in the bone which are filled with fluid or air and cause pain
- Oral cancer: Cancer of the bone or soft tissues in the mouth which can cause tooth pain
- Exposure of dentine (the layer under the enamel) from over-brushing, tooth grinding, a highly acidic diet or reflux
- Food becoming stuck between the teeth, which leads to irritation or inflammation of the surrounding tissue
How to stop tooth pain fast at home
If your toothache is severe or hasn’t subsided in 1-2 days, you need to book in to see your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist will be able to diagnose and treat your toothache immediately to provide you with pain relief.
In the meantime, you can receive short-term relief with simple remedies that will help ease the toothache. You can use over-the-counter pain relief medications such as ibuprofen to help take the edge off, and a cold pack will help with any swelling and help relieve the pain. A bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel will usually work best. But the best remedy is a saltwater gargle; it’s a natural disinfectant that can help reduce inflammation. Mix ½ teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and use as a mouthwash (don’t swallow!).
Aside from this, it’s important to book a dental examination to determine the source of the pain. When booking, the dental team will ask you questions about the pain you’re feeling, such as:
- Does the pain occur when biting or chewing (applying pressure on the tooth)?
- Does the pain begin or become more severe when consuming hot/cold drinks or food?
- Is the pain occasional or constant? Sharp or dull?
- Which tooth or area the pain is coming from?
- How long ago did the pain start?
This information will help direct the appointment preparation, the diagnosis and your treatment before a more thorough examination is conducted.
How to prevent toothaches
As most toothaches are usually caused by some form of tooth decay, the best treatment is prevention. Practice good oral hygiene by brushing (using a toothpaste containing fluoride) and flossing at least twice a day along with regular rinsing using a fluoride mouthwash. Keep high sugar, cavity-producing foods to a minimum and check in with your dentist for professional cleaning twice a year.