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What Causes a Toothache?

A toothache isn’t fun. In fact, it can be debilitating. Depending on the severity and duration of the tooth pain, a dental emergency may be on your hands. Most toothaches, however, are not emergencies and can be easily treated with pain relieving medicine and lifestyle and dietary changes.

Regardless of whether your toothache is an emergency or not, it should not be ignored as it can have great negative impacts on your life and the toothache can be a symptom of a deeper, worsening oral health problem.

What causes toothaches?

Well, there are many causes, the most common being listed below:

Causes of Toothaches Tooth Decay

Tooth decay (aka cavities) are often the first culprit patients and dentists suspect as the cause of toothaches. Tooth decay is where the tooth enamel is damaged and weakened. The tooth enamel is the clear, hard outer coating of the tooth that protects it from germs, plaque and bacteria. It also gives teeth their strength and hardness. When the enamel is compromised due to decay from inadequate dental hygiene, the nerves and sensitive pulp (center) of the tooth is exposed, resulting in pain and sensitivity.

Gum Disease

Low-grade gum disease is a common, preventable dental health issue. When gum disease progresses, it can worsen into periodontal disease where one’s tooth can be at risk.

Injury to the Tooth

Teeth, like other parts of the body, ache when they are injured. Teeth that are broken, fractured or chipped will be more sensitive and prone to aches due to the breakdown of the tooth enamel.

Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess is often the result of untreated cavities that enter the tooth, infect the pulp and create a bacteria-filled pocket at the root of a tooth. Abscesses of the teeth are often very painful and require immediate attention by a dental professional as fast action needs to be done to save the tooth and keep the jaw bone tissue from getting damaged.


The constant grinding of the teeth and clenching of the jaw from Bruxism and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can put an awkward and abnormal amount of pressure on teeth, especially the molars. This excessive pressure and grinding can wear away the tooth enamel, exposing the vulnerable inner layers of the tooth, causing aching and pain.

Abnormal Bite

A toothache can also be caused by an abnormal or improper bite. The excessive or improper wear, grinding and pressure exerted on teeth can damage, wear-off and scratch the tooth enamel, compromising its strength and ability to keep plaque, germs and bacteria out from inside the tooth. Exposure of the center of the tooth to outside elements, including air, can cause tooth sensitivity and aching.

Medical Illness

Sometimes a toothache can be caused by something not related to one’s oral health. There is more and more research indicating the correlation between one’s oral health and one’s overall health. Toothaches can be caused by possible heart disease and angina. When a toothache is also accompanied by nasal congestion and/or a headache, a sinus infection can be to blame.

Damaged Filling

Sometimes a toothache is a sign that you need your fillings redone. Fillings are pieces of bonding that cover an area of the tooth that has been destroyed by tooth decay. When cavities are detected, the dentist will drill into the tooth to remove the decay. Fillings are what’s used to fill in these holes and keep them covered, to prevent germs, bacteria and tooth decay-causing plaque. Fillings don’t last forever and eventually wear down and become dislodged. When fillings weaken, saliva, food particles, germs and bacteria can enter the tooth, causing the tooth to ache.

Tooth Sensitivity

A toothache can be simple tooth sensitivity. Hot or cold beverages, acidic or sweet foods are common culprits of teeth sensitivity. The best way to treat tooth sensitivity is to find out what causes the tooth sensitivity and avoid those drinks or foods. There is also sensitive teeth designed toothpaste that is formulated to strengthen sensitive teeth.

How to Prevent Toothaches

  • Practice good at-home oral hygiene
  • See the dentist regularly
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers (avoid Aspirin)
  • May need dental work done including tooth extractions, filling, crowns, and sealants
  • Avoid hot and cold drinks and sugary and acidic foods

If you’ve been suffering from moderate to severe toothaches for more than a few days, contact us at Family Dental Health Center to schedule an appointment. Our dentists will be able to assess the cause of your toothache and apply the appropriate treatment so you can quickly get back to feeling yourself.