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Toothache

What Is a Toothache?

A toothache or tooth pain is most often caused when the nerve to a tooth is irritated, but there are numerous other reasons for a person to experience tooth pain. Risk factors for toothache include dental infection, gum disease, plaque, dental decay, injury, cracked teeth, poorly placed fillings or crowns, failing or leaking fillings or crowns, loss of a tooth (including tooth extractions), temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea. There are instances, however, where pain originating from outside the mouth radiates to the mouth, thus giving the impression that the pain is of tooth origin. This often happens when there is a problem with the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint or TMJ), ears, nerves, sinuses, or muscles. Occasionally, heart problems can give a sensation of tooth pain. Pregnancy can also be a risk for tooth problems that lead to pain. Due to fluctuating hormone levels during pregnancy, pregnancy gingivitis and tooth decay can occur.

One can prevent the majority of dental problems through basic oral hygiene home care -- flossing and brushing. There are many different products, such as xylitol- and fluoride-containing rinses and toothpaste, and having teeth professionally cleaned on a regular schedule. The dentist may apply sealants, varnishes, and fluoride, which are especially important in children but can also be valuable to adults and the elderly, too.

What Causes a Toothache?

Toothaches occur from inflammation of the central portion of the tooth called pulp. The pulp contains nerve endings that are very sensitive to pain. Inflammation to the pulp, or pulpitis, can be caused by anything that has contact with the tooth. Common causes of tooth pain are the following:

  • Dental cavities/tooth decay
  • Temperature sensitivity -- hot or cold liquids or foods
  • Hot or cold air
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
  • Orthodontic movement -- braces
  • Abscessed tooth
  • Impacted wisdom tooth
  • Pregnancy
  • After a crown, a tooth will sometimes become sensitive after a crown is prepared or cemented.
  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontal disease
  • Gum recession -- exposure of the tooth root that was covered by gum or bone
  • Tooth fracture
  • Acid erosion
  • Damaged or broken fillings or crowns
  • Cold sore or canker sore
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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An untreated dental abscess can produce life-threatening health complications.

Toothache Cause

Abscessed Tooth

An abscessed tooth is a dental condition in which the nerve of the tooth, also referred to as the dental pulp, has become infected. The infection usually occurs when a dental cavity (tooth decay) goes untreated and spreads deep within the tooth. The infection can also occur from a broken or cracked tooth where the dental pulp is exposed to the oral environment. The bacteria that cause an abscess can spread down the length of the roots and into the surrounding bone tissue. Dental professionals also consider an infection can also occur between the gum tissues and root of the tooth, which is called a periodontal abscess. Additionally, the dental nerve can be susceptible to injury leading to an infection after a crown or large filling are completed. The greater the amount of decay, the closer the dental treatment gets to the dental nerve, and the more likely the nerve can become compromised. Teeth that are directly subjected to dental trauma (for example, from a fall or from a hit by a projectile such as a baseball) are also prone to infection and should be immediately examined by a dentist.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Dental Abscess »

A dentoalveolar abscess is an acute lesion characterized by localization of pus in the structures that surround the teeth.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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