Top 7 Causes of Toothaches (And How to Treat Them)

13 2017 Jul

Top 7 Causes of Toothaches (And How to Treat Them)

By Leann Hart / In Dental Needs / No Comments

Imagine waking up, brewing a steaming cup of coffee, biting into your bagel...and OW! A sharp pain in your tooth takes you by surprise and leaves your eyes watering and gums throbbing. How can this be? You just went to your dentist a few weeks ago for your regular cleaning and nothing was wrong.


While you may think something noticeable has to happen to your teeth for you to get a toothache, tooth pain can have a number of causes, and some you may never see coming. An excess of bacteria, impacted wisdom teeth, gingivitis, cavities, or even teeth grinding (bruxism) are just a few examples. Toothaches can also present themselves in many ways, such as inflamed and irritated gums, a bad taste in the mouth due to infection, headache, fever, ache from applied pressure on the gums, and acute, pulsating, or nonstop aches in the mouth.

If you're experiencing a real pain in the tooth, and it's disrupting your day-to-day, we're sharing the top seven causes and how to get relief fast.

Top 7 Causes of Toothaches (And to Treat Them)

1. Cavity/Tooth Decay

The most common cause for toothaches is a dental cavity. Cavities are usually caused by poor oral hygiene (failure to brush or floss regularly). They create a small hole in your tooth that can grow deeper and larger as time goes on. Cavities are also formed when your saliva mixes with sugary foods that then eat away at your tooth.

Cavities are, at first, barely noticeable, making them hard to catch early and improving the chances of developing a toothache later on. Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings to catch cavities before they grow. If cavities go untreated, they can infect the tooth and eventually lead to tooth loss or worse.

While you're waiting for your dentist appointment, apply a simple salt water rinse to ease your pain. Mix a ½ teaspoon of water and 8 ounces of warm (not hot!) water, swish it around your mouth, and spit it out. Repeat until you have gone through all 8 ounces. This method can be repeated every two hours if needed. If you see no improvement at all, try pressing a cold compress wrapped in a dish towel to your cheek for a few minutes.

2. Abscessed Tooth

An abscessed tooth is an infection within the tooth, otherwise known as the "pulp chamber," that has reached the root tip or around the root. This can result in:

  • An infected root
  • Swollen gums
  • Severe pain
  • Possible bone loss at the site of the infection

An abscess can occur when a cavity has reached the pulp chamber or after your tooth is hit, a dental treatment such as a crown that gets too close to the chamber, or trauma to a tooth like grinding. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you could have an abscessed tooth and should make an appointment to see your dentist right away:

  • Gum swelling
  • Redness or darkening of the gums
  • Pain when pressing on the affected tooth
  • Throbbing pain that shows no improvement after taking pain medications

When an abscessed tooth is causing you pain or discomfort, waiting for a dentist appointment can be excruciating. Fortunately, coconut oil can provide some relief before your appointment.

Coconut oil has antiseptic effects and can be used to draw the infection out and help the sore spot on your gum deflate. Coconut oil can be used topically or internally for treatment. Simply lather your toast with coconut oil for a yummy, pain-relieving snack, add it to your morning coffee or smoothie, or take it right off the spoon (only 1 tablespoon at a time).

For topical administration, gently massage the coconut oil onto the tooth and gums where you’re experiencing pain, or swish a small spoonful around in your mouth for two minutes. This technique is called oil pulling and has other benefits for your teeth as well, such as teeth whitening.

However, while coconut oil does include antimicrobial and antiseptic effects, you should still see your dentist to eliminate the risk of the infection returning.

3. Gum Disease

More than three-quarters of Americans over age 35 get gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Gingivitis is the most common type of gum disease, and 5%-15% contract a more severe type of gum disease called periodontitis.

Gum disease is caused by poor dental hygiene, resulting in plaque buildup. Over time, the bacteria will cause your gums to become red, bleed, and swell. While many sufferers of gingivitis feel no discomfort, if the disease is left untreated, it could result in tooth loss. If you believe you have gingivitis or periodontitis, schedule a dentist appointment immediately and take extra care of your teeth to avoid these diseases.

Make sure you floss daily, brush your teeth effectively (2 minutes up, 2 minutes down, 2 times a day), and use an antibacterial mouthwash.

4. Injury/Trauma

One of the more obvious causes of toothaches is a dental injury resulting in a broken tooth or knocked out tooth. If this happens to you, make an appointment with your dentist to get the tooth fixed immediately.

If the tooth is broken, tape gauze or a piece of gum over the jagged edges so they don’t cut your tongue, gums or cheeks. If your tooth fell out, try to fit it back into its socket and bite down gently to keep it in place and avoid swallowing it. Then, use wet gauze, a tea bag or a cotton ball for cushioning. If you cannot fit the tooth in its socket, preserve it in whole milk and saliva until your appointment.

5. Wisdom Teeth

If you’re experiencing pain in your upper back and bottom molar area and still have your wisdom teeth, there’s a good chance that it’s time for them to be removed.

Not removing wisdom teeth when they’re ready to come out can lead to significant pain. If your wisdom teeth are ready to come out, you’ll notice a tender and possibly red area in the back of your mouth around your molars.

This pain will only increase as your wisdom teeth continue to grow, especially if they grow misaligned or sideways. If this happens, they can press on nerves and bones as well as surrounding teeth.

Your wisdom teeth can also become impacted when trapped between neighboring teeth and your jaw bone. Over time, this will only cause more and more discomfort and uncomfortable side effects, such as foul breath, bad taste in the mouth when chewing food, redness and swelling, as well as other general health issues. If left untreated, impacted wisdom teeth can lead to cysts and even tumors.

Be sure to schedule an appointment with an oral surgeon for wisdom teeth removal. Then, just sit tight until the big day and soothe your pain with regular over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and home remedies. Gargling with salt water and coconut oil can help ease your wisdom toothaches. Also, try pressing a full clove on the affected area until a numbing sensation is felt in the gums. Clove oil works the same when gently brushing or massaging it over the sore spots. Cloves and clove oil are typically found in grocery stores if you don’t have any on hand.

6. Teeth Grinding/Bruxism

While you may think that tooth pains are only caused by poor dental hygiene and fast-growing teeth (which they usually are), they can also be caused by bad dental habits as well, such as teeth grinding. You can develop tooth pain associated with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) — the joint that hinges the lower jaw to the skull, enabling you to eat and talk.

When you clench your jaw or grind your teeth, you’re deteriorating your teeth as well as applying extra stress on your jaw muscles, leading to tooth pain and possibly TMJ or TMD disorder. If you’re affected by TMJ syndrome, your dentist can give you a dental splint to reposition the lower jaw. Additionally, eating more soft foods and applying a warm compress on your jawbone can help reduce stress.

If you grind your teeth at night, try wearing a mouthguard to bed to protect your teeth. Another option is to eat more vitamin-rich foods (green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, etc.) to reduce calcium deficiency.

7. Abnormal Bite

Similar to teeth grinding, an abnormal bite also causes TMJ syndrome. Your upper teeth should fit slightly over your bottom teeth. A misaligned bite, also known as malocclusion, occurs when your top and bottom teeth hit in an incorrect way.

An abnormal bite can cause difficulty or discomfort when biting or chewing. Malocclusion is most likely hereditary and not the most common cause for tooth pain. However, if it does occur, it can appear at anytime during your lifetime, especially after or with the use of:

  • Thumb-sucking
  • Over-excessive pacifier use
  • Ill-fitting dental appliances
  • Extra teeth loss
  • Impacted teeth

Luckily, there are ways to address this dental issue. An abnormal bite can be fixed through surgery, removal of one or more teeth, or with braces and other appliances.

While there could be multiple reasons for your nagging toothache, the good news is that many of the causes listed above are completely preventable. By practicing proper hygiene, avoiding nasty habits like teeth grinding, and scheduling regular visits to your dentist, any toothache can be fixed.

At West Chester Chester Dental Arts, we offer comprehensive dental care services and same day appointments to help you get relief fast. Call us at 610-696-3371 to schedule your appointment today! 

Is it time to find a new dentist? Look for these 6 signs you need to switch dentists. Download Your Guide.



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Leann Hart

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