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We’ve all been there. You wake up one morning and find that your molar is aching. Or you pull your floss from your mouth and rub your aching gums. Or, you experience a growing pain in your canine that’s been getting worse for months.
No matter the cause of your tooth pain, you deserve relief – and figuring out the cause is the first step.
Of course, you’re not on your own when dealing with dental discomfort. Dr. Baudean and our team are here to help you get to the root of the problem. But if you’re unsure as to why your tooth is aching and whether the pain is serious, learning more about potential causes will help educate you as to your options.
We’ve put together a quick tooth pain primer below. If your aches fall into one of the more serious categories, be sure to schedule an exam before the dental problem worsens. Just get in touch online or give us a call!
What Your Tooth Pain Might Mean – And When to Call Your Dentist
When you’re stressed, your body reacts. Mental distress doesn’t just stay in your brain – there will be a physical component as your body attempts to release the anxiety. For countless individuals, this means clenching and grinding the teeth.
The way each person’s stress manifests is unique. But bruxism is a widespread problem that affects people of all ages. This is because we tend to hold tension in our jaws, and this is expressed without our control. If you notice yourself holding your jaw tight when you’re focused or uncomfortable, you’re likely grinding your teeth at night and not noticing.
If you grind your teeth long-term, you can experience jaw disorders, eroding enamel, gum recession and daily discomfort.
- What does the pain feel like? This pain is typically worse in the morning, after you’ve been grinding your teeth during the night. You will usually notice a dull ache with sharper pain points at your jaw joint where the upper and lower jaws connect.
- Should you visit your dentist? Yes. If you have issues with grinding, you should begin wearing a night guard to protect your teeth and your jaws.
Ever bite into a popsicle and wince in pain? Or sipped a cup of coffee and noticed a sharp twinge at your tooth root as the hot liquid washed over it? You likely have worn enamel that is not adequately protecting your teeth.
Enamel can erode for a variety of reasons, ranging from over consumption of acidic drinks like soda to grinding your teeth regularly. This leads to discomfort when your teeth are exposed to stimuli like hot and cold. You may also develop dental anxiety from discomfort during dental exams or fillings.
- What does the pain feel like? Sensitivity from worn enamel usually manifests as a sharp twinge, often felt immediately after the teeth are exposed to hot or cold. There may also be twinges felt throughout the day – they usually feel like they’re coming from tooth roots.
- Should you visit your dentist? Not necessarily. If you experience sensitivity now and then but your teeth are not severely worn, you don’t need to pursue treatment. But if your teeth look worn or yellow, you may be interested in cosmetic treatment. And if your teeth are very sensitive, you can receive bonding or veneers to cover exposed roots or other sensitive areas to feel more comfortable.
Small cavities usually don’t cause pain because they’re located in the outer layer (enamel) of your teeth. But if a cavity is not filled and is able to progress, it can begin causing discomfort as it moves deeper into the tooth. If you notice pain emanating from a single tooth and growing worse over time, the problem is likely a cavity.
- What does the pain feel like? The pain will feel like it is coming from a single tooth or between two teeth. The pain may grow worse over time. Look at the tooth in question in a hand mirror and see if you notice discoloration. This is a telltale sign that it is likely tooth decay causing the pain.
- Should you visit your dentist? A cavity that is causing discomfort has grown to the point that it must be treated by a dentist. You should schedule an exam so that your dentist can x-ray your teeth and look for cavities. If the cavity progresses, it can lead to the next problem listed…
An abscessed tooth can take hold if a cavity has become serious and infected the tooth’s pulp. This can lead to serious problems including tooth loss and bone loss.
- What does the pain feel like? There can be significant pain stemming from a single tooth. There may also be a bump on the gums just below the tooth’s crown, which looks like a small pimple. Pain may be sharp and deep and feel worse after you bite into food.
- Should you visit your dentist? Immediately. The ramifications of an abscessed tooth can be extremely serious. The tooth may be saved with a root canal; if you wait, extraction might be necessary.
If you have recently suffered a blow to the mouth or the jaw, you are likely experiencing oral pain.
- What does the pain feel like? It will vary depending on the severity of the injury, and will be localized at the point of impact.
- Should you visit your dentist? Immediately. If your dentist is not available you should call 911 or visit the emergency room. If you have a broken jaw, knocked out tooth, or other serious injury, prompt care could save the tooth or make treatment simpler and get you feeling more comfortable. A professional must check your mouth to determine this – don’t try to tough it out.
Broken Filling, Veneer or Crown
We aim to have our dental work last as long as possible. But restorations aren’t impervious to harm. Over time, fillings, veneers, composite bonding and crowns all become worn and may chip or crack. This can lead to soft tissue injuries from sharp edges, or decay forming in the unprotected areas within the broken dental work.
- What does the pain feel like? You’ll notice a sharp edge that your tongue catches against on the broken restoration. Depending on the location, you may not be able to feel the edge with your tongue but it may cut up the inside of your cheek. Food or seeds may also get caught in the broken area.
- Should you visit your dentist? Yes. The work needs to be replaced to protect your tooth and provide relief.
Cold or Sinus Infection
Your sinuses are located above your upper jaw. When you have significant congestion, the sinuses can press against the upper teeth.
- What does the pain feel like? There will likely be a dull ache throughout your upper molars. If you have accompanying congestion, the tooth pain is likely a cold.
- Should you visit your dentist? No. If you have a sinus infection or serious cold, visit your doctor. The pain will fade as you get better.