A toothache means that the nerves that run through and under your teeth have been painfully stimulated. 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.
Mostly mineral armor to protect nerves and blood vessels.
Teeth may seem simple, 96 percent non-organic hydroxyapatite or crystallized calcium phosphate. They are the hardest and least organic parts of the human body. The outer enamel surface covers a bony mass (the dentin).
But underneath this armor lives a pulp through which blood vessels and nerves are distributed. There is also a bundle of nerves in the ligament (organic fiber) that attaches the tooth to the gum.
What good are the tooth nerves?
The nerves through and around the teeth let the teeth integrate with the muscles, the brain, and the bones that are responsible for the up-and-down chewing motion of the jaw. The nerves associated with the teeth provide the sensations that guide your chewing.
You can always sense if your bite is not correct or if your teeth shift because you have these sensors around the teeth. The nerves also enable you to sense heat and cold in your mouth. The short-term pain that you sometimes feel is similar to the pain sensation in other parts of your body, warnings of invasion or danger.
However, as with nervous sensation in other parts of the body, the warning signals can be unpleasant and sometimes distorted or persistent. You can feel excessive heat or cold through your teeth, for instance.
Sometimes the sensations can be painful momentarily. If you have developed a hole in a tooth (a cavity) the nerves may become very sensitive to sugar, heat, or cold and generate a persistent painful signal.
Some common causes of toothache include
- Injury or dental trauma.
- Inflammation, swelling or "dry socket" following a tooth extraction.
- Pain associated with tooth decay (also called dental caries) where foreign particles enter the nerve structure of the tooth through holes.
- Sometimes pain which we identify as toothache comes, not from the teeth, but from disease in the surrounding gums. The pain can be caused by infection or chemical reactions from acids in food interacting with nerves.
Intermittent sharp or jabbing pain within one or several teeth often comes in response to opening your mouth, chewing, or eating cold foods. The pain usually subsides when the activity stops. This pain can be caused by a crack, a cavity, or infected abscess that caused an exposure of nerves to the environment.
Intense tooth sensitivity can be a sharp pain felt only when you are eating a cold food like ice cream or a hot food like drinking coffee. This pain can be caused by an exposed nerve, but it can also be caused by rough tooth brushing or a gum that gets pulled back or receded from the root of your tooth.
Dull, nagging pain can be quite mild but annoying. This kind of pain may be caused by nerve damage or tooth decay. It is often suffered by people who grind their teeth or grit their teeth hard. Many sufferers seek relief from over the counter pain medication. However, this relief is not a good long-lasting solution because the pain may have a serious underlying cause which has to be treated.
If you suffer from extreme throbbing pain in a tooth, you may have to make an immediate appointment with your dentist. This is especially important if your face looks swollen because it may mean you have developed an infection or abscess which is damaging the tissue of your mouth.
If you have a toothache only when eating, the problem may be that the chemicals in your food are in direct contact with nerves in your mouth through tooth decay or a break or fracture in the enamel of your tooth. You should make a dental appointment, and should not rely on pain medication.
Pain in the back of your jaw may be caused by an impacted wisdom tooth. Wisdom teeth are the large teeth found at the very back of your mouth (sometimes called "final molars"). They usually come up long after the other teeth have already been established in the mouth (usually in your late teens).
They can cause pain when they are pushing through the gums. They often grow in crooked and cause damage to neighboring teeth. When the wisdom tooth is blocked from coming through the gums because they impact other teeth--that is an impacted wisdom tooth.
The damage that impacted wisdom teeth cause to the gum and jaw can cause severe pain as well as infection. Impacted wisdom teeth have to be removed.
Are There Home Remedies for Tooth Pain or Toothaches?
- People may use over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) Aleve or ibuprofen (Advil). people with toothaches should take these medications as directed for temporary relief prior to professional evaluation.
- Be sure to avoid very cold or hot foods because these may make the pain worse.
- One home remedy for pain relief is to bite on a cotton ball soaked in oil of cloves. Clove oil is available at most drugstores in town.
- Garlic contains a chemical called allicin, which acts as a natural antibiotic and can fight a tooth infection. By simply eating more garlic through supplementation or as an ingredient in everyday foods, one can decrease their vulnerability to infection. To help alleviate pain, garlic can be crushed and mixed into a paste with a little bit of salt and applied to the area that is infected. This won't cure the infection but may help with tooth pain and prevent the infection from growing or spreading.
- Apply medicated relief gel like Orajel to the affected area can provide pain relief in some instances.
Dr. William Linger has been a dentist in practice improving oral health for 22 years. He completed his undergraduate and dental education at West Virginia University, graduating from the school of dentistry in 1996, where he received the William Reed Butler Scholarship for excellence in research. Please contact us to learn more.