Patients often ask me “why do my teeth hurt?” Well, this depends on the type of pain you are feeling. There are many different causes of tooth pain, from an exposed root or tooth infection, to chipped enamel or wisdom tooth infection. Identifying the cause of the tooth pain begins with understanding the different types of pain.
Below are several ways in which your teeth can hurt, as well as the likely culprit behind the tooth pain.
1. Cold sensitivity that goes away quickly
If you experience sensitivity that goes away quickly, an exposed root or thinning enamel are likely the problem. This is often discovered when eating sweets or cold foods and beverages and is the most common tooth pain people will experience. Patients who experience this type of pain may have areas of the tooth where enamel is no longer covering the root. This can be due to gum recession or enamel erosion from a highly-acidic diet.
If you eat a lot of acidic foods – like citrus, or kombucha – the best treatment is to change your diet. Your enamel will re-mineralize over time and the pain will go away. If gum recession is to blame, you may need gum grafts. In most cases, however, the enamel will regenerate over time.
2. Cold sensitivity that lingers
If you experience cold sensitivity that lasts longer than five seconds, irreversible pulpitis (IP) – or inflammation of the pulp of the tooth – may be to blame. This type of tooth infection happens when a cavity is left untreated and begins affecting the nerve. In the early stages, your discomfort may go away. However, as this progresses the sensitivity will linger for much longer. In most cases, treatment for IP will require a root canal.
If you’re experiencing this type of pain, it’s important you treat it quickly. The longer you wait, the worse the nerve damage will be. Pain will also continue to increase.
3. Pressure sensitivity when chewing
The next category of pain is pressure or discomfort when chewing. This is usually not paired with cold sensitivity, and is generalized to one tooth. The culprit here is likely nerve damage or nerve death. Very few patients will ignore this pain, but those who do will end up with an abscessed tooth. To treat nerve death, the patient will need a root canal.
4. Unbearable pain in one tooth
If you wake up in the middle of the night to an unbearable tooth pain that will not go away, there is a good chance you have an abscessed tooth. This occurs when nerve damage is left untreated and the infection has spread to the jaw bone. An abscess is very painful and very dangerous because the bacteria in your tooth can travel to your bloodstream. The required treatment for an abscess is to remove the tooth or do a root canal to remove the dead nerve.
5. Sharp discomfort when biting
If you experience a sharp discomfort when biting down, you’ve likely cracked your tooth. This is easily identifiable because the pain is associated with a trauma – either biting down on something hard or colliding with another object. Depending on the degree of fracture, the crack can get close to the nerve and cause major discomfort. Treatment for a cracked tooth ranges from a crown, or crown and root canal, to an extraction depending on the severity of the crack.
If you have a severely cracked tooth that is causing pain after the incident, it’s important to see a dentist right away.
6. Generalized inflammation and pain
If you experience a generalized pain on both your top and bottom teeth, you may have an issue with teeth grinding. This diagnosis can also present with cold sensitivity, pressure sensitivity and facial or jaw pain. This is the most difficult type pain to self-diagnose because it presents in so many ways. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with your dentist for a full exam. If you are diagnosed with teeth grinding, you will likely be prescribed a bite guard.
While the above outlines common causes of tooth pain, it’s important to note that many dental issues do not present with pain. Complex dental issues often don’t cause pain until they have progressed to a certain point. Others – like cavities – don’t cause pain at all. This is a common misnomer. Many people believe cavities are the number one cause of tooth pain. But this simply isn’t true.
Whether you’re experiencing pain, or not, it’s important to maintain a regular hygiene schedule with your dentist. Doing so will help identify issues early and help minimize pain as much as possible. To schedule an exam, call our dentist office to set up an appointment. We can help treat your tooth pain and prevent future pain.