Experiencing a Nagging Toothache? Let’s Get to the Bottom of It

What’s a toothache? As it would suggest, it’s when you feel pain in and around your teeth and jaw. The pain can range from dull and achy, to occasional scratchiness, to shooting pains that become chronic and make daily things like chewing, speaking, and even sleeping on your side, super uncomfortable. Other symptoms of tooth pain include mild swelling near the tooth, irritation in the gums around the tooth, and sensitivity to hot and cold foods/drinks.

As the term “toothache” is pretty vague, you’re probably thinking there’s a plethora of possibilities behind the cause of your tooth pain. And you’d be right. You could have simply stabbed a spot between your molars with the shard of a half-chewed chip, or you could be experiencing periodontitis brought on by a non-mouth related medical condition.

But don’t worry – visiting your local family dentist can sort this out pretty simply; they’re well-versed in how the mouth-body feedback loop can lead to strange and even dangerous causes of your chronic tooth pain. Let’s take a look:

Direct Causes of Toothaches in Patients

Dental work, like bridges, dentures, crowns, and fillings, don’t last forever. And as they wear, your teeth move, your jaw moves or deteriorates, these can end up causing discomfort in your mouth. Possible causes of tooth pain in patients with previous dental work can include:

  • Tooth crown pain due to decay in the crowned tooth
  • Broken or cracked fillings that have exposed the inner tooth and nerve
  • A dislodged implant or implant crown
  • A botched root canal (that definitely wasn’t us!)

There are also causes of tooth pain that result from dysfunction or disease in the mouth:

  • Tooth decay
  • An abscessed tooth
  • An impacted tooth (the tooth is stuck under the gums and can’t erupt)
  • Food debris stuck between your teeth or in your gums
  • Bruxism (chronic teeth grinding)

Possible Causes of Toothaches Unrelated to Your Teeth

There are also causes of toothaches that don’t originate in your teeth at all, and that’s where it can get a bit tricky to diagnose and treat. Pain in your teeth, gum and/or jaw that don’t originate there is called referred tooth pain. If your toothache is just a symptom of a body-based malady, the cause can be a bit more mysterious than one purely caused by poor dental health or complications with dental work. Once your family dentist rules out oral conditions as the cause of your toothache, they’ll likely send you on to your primary care physician with all the relevant medical information they gathered to rule out mouth-based causes of your chronic tooth pain.

Migraines Overactivate the Nerves in Your Teeth

On the long, long list of possible migraine symptoms, tooth and jaw pain is one of them. Since it’s thought that migraines are, at least in part, caused by irritation and inflammation in the nerves of the face, one of these symptoms can be toothaches. When you can’t find any dental cause for a toothache or tooth crown pain, migraines are a likely culprit.

TMJ Puts too Much Stress on Your Jaw

Temporomandibular joint disorder can be caused by deformation of the TMJ, misalignment of the jaw, or chronic clenching and/or grinding. These can all lead to pain in the teeth because of the undue wear and tear that has created “trigger points” of sensitivity. Toothaches from TMJ may also be a result of cracked tooth syndrome.

Sinusitis Builds Pressure Behind Your Teeth

Sinusitis is defined as chronic swelling of the sinuses resulting from an infection in your sinuses. This can put pressure on the upper jaw and cause pain in your upper teeth; sinus toothaches specifically affect the back upper teeth the most. A good indicator the cause of your toothache might be sinusitis is if all your upper teeth hurt at once and chewing is uncomfortable.

Cardiovascular Conditions Aggravate the Vagus Nerve

Toothaches can be a warning sign of a heart attack, but in turn, heart disease can cause pain in the teeth. Lung cancer can cause toothaches, too. This is because of the vagus nerve, which passes through your jaw as it runs to your heart, lungs, and other parts of the body. If this nerve is irritated, it will cause pain in the teeth and jaw. A sign that your toothache or tooth crown pain might be heart-related is if you feel dizzy or lightheaded as well.

Neuralgias Increase Inflammation and Pressure on Your Teeth

Neural conditions in the trigeminal and occipital nerves cause chronic inflammation and irritation of these nerves, which can, in turn, cause toothaches. This is because these two nerves are the main nerves that communicate with your neck, face, teeth, and jaw. A sign of neuralgia-induced tooth pain is if it radiates through the gums and cheeks.

Diabetes & Miscellaneous Medications Increase Risks of Oral Health Problems

Diabetes is directly linked with periodontitis, as are several medications for other medical disorders. Periodontitis exposes tooth roots, causes abscesses, and encourages tooth decay and resulting tooth loss. At any stage of periodontitis, you might experience pain in your teeth, gums and/or jaw. Medicines, conditions and substances which cause dry mouth can also be culprits of tooth or tooth crown pain.

How Regular Dental Care from Your Family Dentist can Prevent Toothaches

Some toothaches require a thorough brush-and-floss, followed by swishing salt water to dislodge stuck food, and it’ll relieve the issue. But if the cause of your tooth pain was more than a result of aggressively eating popcorn, your dentist is the one to help.

Getting regular dental exams and cleanings from a local dentist is the best way to prevent toothaches, and all maladies of the mouth. Why? Early detection. And this is true not only for mouth-originating causes of your toothache, but in cases where your tooth pain is referred as well. Your dentist will do a thorough exam and take some x-rays. Then:

  • If your toothache is caused by tooth decay, your dentist will either drill and fill or crown the decayed tooth or extract the tooth completely. In cases of a painful tooth crown, they’ll remove the crown, remove any new tooth decay, fill the cavity and have a new crown made.
  • If the tooth pain is due to an infection and/or abscess in a tooth’s root, your dentist may perform a root canal so the tooth won’t have a nerve anymore. A root canal is the best way to save a badly-damaged tooth while protecting your jaw and the rest of your teeth from potential future infections.
  • If the tooth is impacted, depending on the extent and existence of any related infections or abscesses, it will likely require a small surgery to either remove or encourage eruption.

If your dentist rules out all the oral causes of tooth pain and can’t figure out its origins, that means your toothache is likely referred pain, and that’s where your medical doctor will step in and take over.

Gentle, Comprehensive Care from a Top Cincinnati Family Dentist

We understand the anxiety that comes with a chronic toothache. It’s more than the discomfort; it’s the wondering – What’s the cause? How bad is it? Will I need a painful procedure done? – that is usually the worst part. But you don’t have to worry about that at our office.

Our Cincinnati dentists are adept at gentle and comprehensive care for our patients, which includes keeping you comfortable and helping relieve dental anxiety. Our goal is to get you to visit us at the first sign of an issue with your teeth, instead of waiting until it’s worse because you don’t like going to the dentist. We perform general family dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, and pediatric and geriatric dentistry.

We’re also an emergency dentist located in Blue Ash, convenient to Sharonville and the surrounding Cincinnati suburbs. Do you have a toothache that’s starting to worry you? Give us a call. We keep appointments open for things just like this, and you don’t have to be an existing patient in order to see us for your dental emergency, toothache, or any other issue. Just give our office a call, and don’t worry; you’re in good hands.