Toothache: What Causes It and How to Treat It

We depend on our teeth so much more than we realise. A toothache can not only be painful, but irritatingly disruptive. There is only so much that can be managed with appropriate dental hygiene, so it is important to be aware of how often a dental visit is required.

The pain associated with a toothache, whilst unpleasant, is useful because it allows you to focus your attention on the problem area. It could be telling you that you are suffering from any of the following common causes of toothache.

toothache causes treatments symptoms

Severe Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is the process by which dental enamel is gradually worn down over time. Our diets feed bacteria, which reside in the mouth, which bind in large groups to minerals on the teeth to form dental plaque. The bacteria in plaque produces acids which wear down the dental enamel. The dental enamel shields the living, sensitive inner components of the teeth from damage.

This is a fairly common condition that will affect all adults at some point in their lives. This condition can be accelerated by high-sugar diets and poor dental hygiene, both of which can accelerate bacterial growth.

Infected Gums

Gingivitis is a very common form of gum disease wherein the gums become irritated by the bacteria that resides on dental plaque. Over time, gums can become inflamed, sensitive, reddish, and prone to bleeding, and may even recede. Any of these symptoms can lead to the sensation of a toothache.

Gingivitis is caused primarily by inadequate dental hygiene, and if left to an advanced stage, will require a dentist to remove the offending bacterial build-up. Otherwise, this can lead to periodontitis, an infection of the underlying jawbone which supports the teeth, and can eventually cause severe, lasting damage to the surrounding gum and jawbone.

Dental Abscesses

An abscess is a build-up of pus (a collection of dead white blood cells, tissue and bacteria). Abscesses occur when bacteria spreads into the living tissues in the mouth, and causes a breakdown of these tissues in a localised area. This causes the characteristic swelling of the affected area, which will be painfully sensitive and inflamed.

There are three main types of abscess:

  • Gingival: An abscess of the exterior gum tissue, usually caused by external trauma to the gum tissue. This is fairly common and should be examined immediately, before it is allowed to progress to other infections.
  • Periodontal: An inflammation of the connective tissue ligaments, wherein the pus is contained in the space between the teeth and gum. If untreated, this can lead to further infections of the surrounding tissue and bone.
  • Periapical: An inflammation of the dental pulp, caused by bacteria entering through cavities (or caries). The damage is often irreversible, and can require a root canal to treat the infection.

Tooth Trauma

Tooth trauma is often the result of sporting or workplace injuries. It may manifest as fractures or chipping, and in more severe cases, complete dislocation of a tooth. This trauma results in the exposure of soft tissue and roots, which can experience infections and necrosis.

It is important to note that trauma to a tooth can have additional knock-on effects on the surrounding teeth, and toothaches may not immediately occur from the initial trauma.

Other Causes

A toothache can come with a host of other symptoms. If you are running a fever, notice swelling in or around the mouth, notice (or taste) a discharge from the affected area or start to develop pain in the ears or throat, then immediate medical attention is required.

A toothache can also be the result of other non-threatening conditions, for example, individuals who have recently been fitted with braces or had braces adjusted (or other dental realignment treatments) are likely to experience toothaches for a short period of time, depending on the severity of alignment.

Toothache can also be the result of sensitivity due to damage to the enamel layer of teeth. A common cause of wear and tear to the teeth, aside from bacterial damage, is bruxism, or the excessive grinding down of teeth over time (either when sleeping, or awake).

Beyond being incredibly painful, toothache can indicate or lead to a number of other debilitating conditions. It is important to pay careful attention to your dental health, and seek treatment as soon as possible before more significant complications arise.

What Treatments Are Available for a Toothache?

There is not a lot that you can do to treat a toothache yourself. Visit a dentist, as soon as possible, for a complete diagnosis and treatment. In the meantime, you may want to try some of the following:

  • Painkillers: Ibuprofen, aspirin and paracetemol can provide temporary relief for most toothaches and pains, provided the right dosage is observed
  • Saltwater rinse: A warm saltwater rinse can help relieve some of the pressure from certain types of toothaches, and mildly inhibits bacterial growth
  • Cold compress: Taking some ice-cubes, wrapped around a cloth, can help to reduce the sensation of pain temporarily

Otherwise, prevention is much more useful than cure. To learn more about preventing toothaches, contact Dr Olstein today.