Pain is a signal that something is wrong. Any tooth pain should be taken seriously, because ignoring this symptom can lead to more serious dental and medical consequences. Among the common causes of tooth pain are decay, erosion, infection, and trauma.
Tooth decay begins with the bacteria in plaque. These bacteria create acids that strip the minerals from tooth enamel, forming weak spots in the enamel. Without treatment, weak spots grow into cavities. When tooth decay reaches the softer dentin below the enamel, the tooth develops sensitivity to heat, cold, and sweets. Deeper cavities can reach the pulp inside the tooth, which has extremely sensitive nerve tissue. These cavities can be very painful.
See your dentist as soon as you suspect you have a cavity. Early tooth decay can sometimes be reversed. A small or medium cavity can be treated with a filling. Deep cavities might require most extensive restorations.
Enamel erosion causes tooth sensitivity and makes teeth more vulnerable to decay. Acidic foods and drinks such as citrus juices, sodas, and energy drinks can erode enamel when they’re enjoyed too frequently. Enamel erosion can be caused by acidic backwash from gastric reflux or other medical conditions. Enamel can be damaged by brushing too aggressively, or even using a brush with hard or medium bristles.
When erosion is caught early, medical treatment or lifestyle changes can limit damage. Because enamel doesn’t grow back, more serious erosion might be treated with fillings, bonding, veneers, or crowns.
Advanced gum disease is a serious infection that causes the gum tissue to pull away from the teeth. Tooth roots are covered with cementum, a softer substance than enamel, which makes them more vulnerable to tooth sensitivity and painful root cavities.
Gum disease is a progressive infection that can damage gums, teeth, and bone. Deep cleanings, antibiotics, and gum grafts are among the treatments available to restore gum health and protect tooth roots.
The pulp inside each tooth is composed of living tissue, including nerves and blood vessels. When the pulp is exposed to bacteria, whether due to deep decay, injury, or gum disease, it can become infected. Symptoms include persistent pain and sensitivity, as well as red, swollen, or tender gums.
Left untreated, an infected tooth might need to be extracted. Infection can spread to the gums, jawbone, and other parts of the body. A root canal procedure is generally used to treat a tooth with a pulp infection. During root canal treatment, your dentist will remove any infected tissue, clean and fill the site, and often restore the tooth with a crown.
Bruxism, or tooth grinding, puts enormous pressure on the teeth. Enamel is worn away, exposing the more sensitive dentin underneath, so teeth develop sensitivity to hot and cold. Bruxism causes toothaches, headaches, and jaw pain, and teeth can chip, crack, flatten, or loosen.
A custom nightguard is often recommended to protect your teeth from the traumatic impact of clenching and grinding. If your bruxism is caused by stress, anxiety, or any other medical condition, your doctor can suggest possible treatments.
Dental trauma caused by a collision, a blow to the face, a sporting injury, a fall, or any other accident should be evaluated immediately. Sometimes, damage to a tooth isn’t obvious, and persistent pain could mean a hairline fracture or damage below the gum line.
Your dentist can often repair chips, cracks, and fractures in the office. For severe dental trauma, your dentist might refer you to an oral surgeon or endodontist for specialized treatment or surgery.
If you have been suffering from persistent tooth pain, see your dentist as soon as possible to discover the cause of your discomfort. Together, you can decide on a treatment plan that will give you back your healthy, pain-free smile.