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Tooth Pain - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Tooth Pain - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

6 min read


A throbbing or aching sensation in the tooth can be frustrating and can commonly indicate a tooth infection. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Hemalatha

Published At September 4, 2020
Reviewed AtNovember 15, 2023


A toothache can be unpleasant and frustrating, and one might find it difficult to sleep at night. When it is severe, no amount of over-the-counter painkillers will help with the pain, unless the cause is treated. Tooth pain is often accompanied by sensitivity to cold, hot, or sweet foods or drinks, and chewing or biting can also be painful. When the nerve present in the inner aspect or that surrounding the tooth gets irritated, it results in toothache or tooth pain. The most common dental causes of tooth pain include tooth decay, tooth infection, injury, or tooth fracture. Sometimes, pain radiates from other areas and mimics tooth pain, such as from an ear infection, a sinus infection, or a heart attack.

What Are the Causes of Tooth Pain?

Dental Causes:

  • Tooth Sensitivity - Teeth with exposed nerves are prone to sensitivity. The tooth's outer protective layer (enamel) can wear off due to acidic food, teeth grinding, acid reflux, and so on, which, on exposure to extreme heat or cold, can cause sharp and sudden tooth pain.

  • Gum Recession - The pink tissue covering the bone and root of the tooth recedes, exposing the root. This makes the tooth vulnerable to infections and also makes it more sensitive.

  • Tooth Decay (Caries) - Tooth decay, or cavity, is the damage to the tooth's enamel, mostly by bacteria, resulting in a pit or hole. Tooth decay might not cause any symptoms in the early stages, but one might experience pain as the infection goes deeper.

  • Gingivitis and Periodontitis - Sometimes, the gums can get infected and inflamed, which is called gingivitis. A severe gum infection can affect the ligaments and other soft tissues that surround the tooth, causing periodontitis. It results in tooth pain while chewing and biting.

  • Tooth Fracture - Chipped teeth can cause tooth pain and sensitivity if the dentin or pulp is exposed. Sometimes, tooth fracture causes pain, but it might be impossible to see it clinically. A dental X-ray can help diagnose such fractured teeth.

  • Bruxism or Teeth Grinding - Teeth grinding or clenching the jaws can result in the wearing down of the teeth and result in sensitivity and pain. Excessive grinding force can also sometimes fracture the tooth.

  • Dental Abscess - The buildup of pus inside the teeth or gums is called a dental abscess. It results in pain while biting or touching the area. The tooth might also be very sensitive to hot or cold.

  • Losing a Filling - Not getting a lost or broken filling replaced can make the tooth decay progress further and cause toothache.

  • Food Lodgement - Food getting stuck between teeth is called food lodgement. This can irritate the gums and result in pain and gum disease. It also makes the tooth susceptible to caries.

  • Dental Treatments - One might have pain or sensitivity after a recent filling or other dental procedures involving drilling, as it temporarily makes the tooth's nerve endings more sensitive.

  • Teeth Bleaching - Bleaching strips or gels increase tooth sensitivity and can also cause tooth pain. However, pain and sensitivity are often temporary.

  • Malocclusion - Teeth malignment problems can result in an unbalanced distribution of force while biting or chewing, causing severe pain.

  • Impacted Tooth - A tooth that does not have room to erupt in the oral cavity is called an impacted tooth. When an impacted tooth gets infected, or the gums get inflamed, it can cause pain.

  • Tooth Eruption - One might also experience pain when the tooth erupts into the oral cavity.

Non-Dental Causes:

  • Sinusitis (Sinus Infection) - When the sinuses get inflamed due to infection, they exert pressure on the roots of the upper teeth and jaw, resulting in tooth pain.

  • Cluster Headaches - Sometimes, pain from cluster headaches can radiate to the jaw and mimic tooth pain.

  • Heart Attack - Chest pain due to a heart attack could also radiate to the jaw and tooth.

  • Viral Infection - Shingles, a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, can cause tooth pain.

  • Trigeminal Neuralgia - A chronic condition that affects the trigeminal nerve is called trigeminal neuralgia. This pain can radiate to the jaws, gums, and teeth.

  • Ear Infection - Ear pain due to middle ear infection can radiate to the jaws and teeth.

What Are the Symptoms Associated With Tooth Pain?

The following signs and symptoms can be seen along with tooth pain:

  • Pain on chewing or biting.

  • Teeth hypersensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet foods or drinks.

  • Swelling of the gums and cheeks.

  • Bleeding gums.

  • Bad breath.

  • Pus discharge from the gums.

Some patients might also experience:

  • Ear pain.

  • Headache.

  • Fever.

  • Jaw pain.

  • Neck pain.

When to Consult a Dentist for Tooth Pain?

One must make sure to consult a dentist if:

  • The pain is present even after taking painkillers and trying home remedies.

  • One has severe pain after an extraction, as it can be a sign of a dry socket, a condition where the blood clot gets dislodged from the extraction site, exposing the bone and causing severe pain.

  • The face or gums are swollen, along with the discharge of pus around the tooth. These are signs of a dental abscess, which needs to be drained.

  • Pain is accompanied by fever and chills.

  • One develops a facial rash.

If one has chest pain, feels dizzy, or has pain in the left arm and jaws, one must go to the emergency room immediately, as these are signs of a heart attack.

How Does a Dentist Determine the Cause of Tooth Pain?

The dentist will be able to determine the cause based on the physical examination and the symptoms. The dentist will also take a dental X-ray to determine the treatment plan and how severe the tooth damage is. Sometimes, one might also have to take an OPG (orthopantomogram), which is an X-ray that gives a panoramic view of the jaws and teeth.

What Are the Treatment Options for Tooth Pain?

Home Remedies:

These home remedies might help alleviate tooth pain until one visits the dentist to get it treated.

  • Saltwater Rinses - Half a teaspoon of salt should be mixed in a cup of warm water, and should be used as a mouth rinse. Saltwater helps minimize inflammation and reduce pain.

  • Cold Compresses - If the tooth is paining after a trauma, the best thing to do is to apply a cold compress. Some ice cubes can be wrapped in a towel and applied over the painful area for 20 minutes. This will constrict the blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain.

  • Clove - Clove oil is an age-old remedy for toothache. Clove oil contains Eugenol, a natural antiseptic, and also numbs the area and reduces pain and inflammation.

  • Head Elevation - It is common to notice that some types of tooth pain increase at night. This is because, when one sleeps, blood pools in the head, resulting in more pressure and pain. In such cases, keeping the head a little elevated using pillows can reduce pain.

  • Hydrogen Peroxide Mouth Rinse- A 1:1 ratio of 3 percent Hydrogen peroxide and water can be used as a mouth rinse. This will also relieve the pain and inflammation associated with gum disease.

  • Peppermint Tea- Peppermint is said to have antibacterial properties and can numb the affected area.

Medical Treatment:

Depending on the cause of tooth pain, the dentist might suggest the following treatment options:

  • Dental Restoration - For cavities or tooth fracture that involves the enamel and/or dentin, the dentist will fill the tooth with dental cement.

  • Extraction - If the tooth is beyond repair, the dentist will pull out the teeth.

  • Root Canal Treatment - Root canal treatment is indicated for pulp infection or infection of the roots. A tooth abscess can also be drained with the help of a root canal treatment. The infected nerves and blood vessels are cleaned out, and the inside of the root is then filled with a biocompatible material.

  • Incision and Drainage - In case of swelling in the cheeks and neck, the doctor will drain the pus by making a couple or more incisions.

  • Oral Antibiotics - Antibiotics are prescribed if one has a fever or swelling.

  • Analgesics - To relieve pain, the dentist might prescribe analgesics such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen.

  • Mouthguards - If one has the habit of clenching their teeth at night, then one needs to wear a mouthguard.

If the cause is not dental, then the dentist will refer the individual to an appropriate specialist.

How to Prevent Tooth Pain?

Most dental problems can be prevented by:

  • Brushing and cleaning the teeth properly to remove food particles, using a toothbrush with soft bristles and fluoride toothpaste. One must ensure to brush their teeth twice a day.

  • It is necessary to rinse the mouth with water every time one eats anything.

  • It is advisable to floss at least once every day to prevent caries in between teeth.

  • A healthy diet should be consumed, and sticky and sweet food items should be limited.

  • Fluoride varnish or pit and fissure sealants should be done for kids.

  • One must get their teeth cleaned by a dentist every six months.

  • One must wear protective headgear and mouthguards while playing sports.

  • One must refrain from smoking and the usage of smokeless tobacco.


Tooth pain can be dull, throbbing, or sharp. Bacteria present inside the oral cavity can cause gum diseases and dental caries, resulting in toothache. Most of the dental causes of tooth pain can be prevented by brushing, flossing, and maintaining good oral hygiene. One must visit a dentist every six months and get their teeth cleaned. One can also talk to their dentist about getting pit and fissure sealants and fluoride treatment for their kids, as it can help prevent tooth decay

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Signs of Serious Tooth Pain?

Following signs and symptoms indicate a serious tooth infection:
- Tooth pain associated with swelling around the tooth and on the affected side of the face.
- Fever.
- Tooth pain with referred pain in either jaw, neck, ears, and head.
- Extreme tooth pain and swelling leading to restricted mouth opening or pain during mouth opening.
- Facial rash.


What Does Throbbing Tooth Pain Indicate?

Throbbing tooth pain is present in the following conditions:
- Tooth infection.
- Dental abscess.
- Tightened orthodontic braces.
- Dental decay.
- Gum or tooth infection.
- Sinusitis.
- Erupting wisdom teeth.
- Teeth grinding.


Does a Root Canal Treated Tooth Cause Pain?

Though pain in a root canal treated tooth is normal to linger a few days after the treatment, it is neither normal nor common for a root canal treated tooth to ache for a longer duration. It can be indicative of failed root canal treatment or a prevailing dental infection.


Is It Normal for a Tooth to Ache After a Crown?

Minimal pain is usually expected to occur after a crown fixation. However, if it does not minimize within a few days, there may be a problem with the crown, root canal treatment, or the pain due to parafunctional habits like teeth grinding or clenching.


How Long Do Teeth Normally Hurt After Getting Filled?

Teeth pain, discomfort, or sensitivity after dental fillings resolves on its own within two to three weeks.


How Should I Sleep if I Have Tooth Pain?

Try to sleep with your head placed in an elevated position than your body’s level by adding pillows. Before going to bed, brush your teeth and rinse your mouth with warm saltwater.


Does Tooth Infection During Pregnancy Cause a Concern?

Tooth infections during pregnancy can be worse and affect or spread to the nearby structures fast due to the pregnancy hormones contributing to their exacerbation. Ignoring dental infections during pregnancy can lead to low birth-weight preterm babies. Hence, prompt consultation with a dentist is unnecessary.


Can I Get My Tooth Pulled Out During Pregnancy?

Teeth extraction can be performed during pregnancy. Dentists and gynecologists suggest to get teeth extracted during the second trimester of the pregnancy.


Does Tooth Pain Resolve on Its Own?

In some instances, tooth pain resolves on its own. But it is not permanent. There are high chances that the pain will occur again. Such conditions are,
- Mild tooth pain due to minor dental cavity lesions.
- Slightly recessed gums.
- Sudden and abrupt biting of hard foods leading to teeth shock.
- Impacted tooth.
- Infection of the gum covering a partially impacted tooth.
- Long-standing dental decays.


When Will My Toothache Resolve?

Tooth pain due to minor gum irritations, clenching, eruption, etc., resolve on their own within a few days. But tooth pain due to extensive decay, broken teeth, abscesses, etc., does not resolve until the source of infection is eliminated and treated.


How Can I Ease My Tooth Pain?

Following home remedies can be beneficial to manage tooth pain until you wait for your dentist’s appointment:
- Over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen and Paracetamol.
- Warm salt water mouth rinse.
- Cold compress.
- Hydrogen peroxide rinse (3% solution).
- Peppermint tea.


Does Massage Help in Tooth Pain Alleviation?

There are certain pressure points in various parts of the body like between the thumb and the index finger, between the earlobe and corner of the mouth, between the outer end of the eye and nose, etc., which, when massaged, is said to alleviate toothaches. An acupressure specialist would help you with this.


Which Painkiller Treats Toothache Better?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Aspirin (not for children under 16 years of age), Naproxen, Ibuprofen, etc., and Acetaminophen manage toothaches better.


How to Get Rid of Tooth Pain During Pregnancy?

Rinsing the mouth with warm saltwater and avoiding hot and cold foods that induce tooth pain in an infected tooth is advisable. A cold compress can be applied over the areas of swelling and pain. However, consult your treating doctor or dentist about the safe pain medications to take during pregnancy. Do not self-medicate.


How to Manage My Child’s Toothache?

- Over-the-counter medications like Paracetamol (for children above two years of age).
- Floss your child’s teeth to remove any stuck food particles.
- Diluted clove oil application.
- Warm salt water rinse.
- Cold compress over the sore area.
- These remedies are not permanent and are for immediate pain management and until you seek a dentist’s appointment.
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Dr. Sneha Kannan
Dr. Sneha Kannan



oral health
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