Updated: Aug 1, 2021
A toothache or tooth pain is caused when the nerve in the root of a tooth or surrounding a tooth is irritated. Dental (tooth) infection, decay, injury, or loss of a tooth are the most common causes of dental pain. Pain may also occur after an extraction (tooth is pulled out). Pain sometimes originates from other areas and radiates to the jaw, thus appearing to be tooth pain. The most common areas include the jaw joint (temporomandibular joint or TMJ), ear pain, sinuses, and even occasional heart problems.
You can prevent the majority of dental problems by flossing, brushing with fluoride toothpaste, and having your teeth professionally cleaned twice a year. The dentist may apply sealants and fluoride, which are especially important for children's teeth.
Toothache occurs from inflammation of the central portion of the tooth called pulp. The pulp contains nerve endings that are very sensitive to pain. Inflammation to the pulp or pulpitis may be caused by dental cavities, trauma, and infection. Referred pain from the jaw may cause you to have symptoms of a toothache.
Toothache and jaw pain are common complaints. There may be severe pain to pressure, or to hot or cold stimuli. The pain may persist for longer than 15 seconds after the stimulus is removed. As the area of inflammation increases, the pain becomes more severe. It may radiate to the cheek, the ear, or the jaw. Other signs and symptoms that may lead you to seek care include the following:
Pain with chewing
Hot or cold sensitivity
Bleeding or discharge from around a tooth or gums
Swelling around a tooth or swelling of your jaw
Injury or trauma to the area
These signs and symptoms may sometimes be associated with dental decay, tooth fracture, or gum disease (periodontal disease). Dental decay or an area of redness around the tooth's gum line may point to the source of pain. If you tap an infected tooth, it may make the pain more intense. This sign may point to the problem tooth even if the tooth appears normal.
A toothache needs to be differentiated from other sources of pain in the face. Sinusitis, ear or throat pain, or an injury to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that attaches the jaw to the skull may be confused with toothache. Pain from a deeper structure (called referred pain) may be passed along the nerve and be felt in the jaw or tooth. In order to pinpoint the source of the pain and get relief, call your dentist or doctor.