What is a toothache?

A toothache refers to pain around the teeth or jaw. In most instances the pain is caused by the teeth or jaw, for example as the result of a cavity or gum disease.

However, sometimes the pain may be caused by something that is not associated with the tooth or jaw. For example, the pain may be a symptom of some sort of heart disease such as angina.

What are some of the dental causes of toothache?

Dental causes of toothache include:

  • Dental cavities: These occur when the two outer layers of the tooth become eroded. They are often caused by poor oral hygiene and may result in the person needing a filling.
  • Gum disease: This is an infection of the soft tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth. It can lead to tooth loss of otherwise healthy teeth.
  • Dental abscess: Toothache often occurs because of pulpitis, which is inflammation of the pulp (the inner part of the tooth that contains blood vessels and sensitive nerve fibres). If left untreated, the pulp dies and becomes infected, leading to the formation of a dental abscess. Pain from an abscess is usually throbbing and continuous.
  • 'Cracked Tooth Syndrome': This is toothache caused by a broken or cracked tooth.
  • Sensitive tooth roots: The roots are the lower 2/3 of the tooth that are normally buried in bone. Chronic gum disease may dissolve this bone, causing the gum and bone to recede, and exposing the roots. The exposed roots can be sensitive to hot, cold and sour foods.
  • Gum inflammation: A person may feel pain around a tooth that is trying to break through, such as a new wisdom tooth.
  • Impacted teeth: Impacted means the teeth are pressing together. Impacted teeth sometimes require surgical removal, such as in the case of impacted wisdom teeth.

What should I do if I get a toothache?

If you get a toothache, immediately see your dentist. Do not let the problem develop as the longer you leave it, the more damage may occur resulting in a more extreme course of treatment than was originally required. For example, a person may require a simple filling. However if they leave it too long and the cavity gets worse, extraction may be required.

In the meantime, rinse with hot salt water, as this can help ward off infection.

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