A toothache might mean you have tooth decay—or maybe not. It could also be a sign of other problems that will take a dental exam to uncover. But we can get some initial clues about the underlying cause from how much it hurts, when and for how long it hurts and where you feel the pain most.
Let's say, for instance, you have a sharp pain while consuming something cold or hot, but only for a second or two. This could indicate isolated tooth decay or a loose filling. But it could also mean your gums have receded and exposed some of the tooth's hypersensitive root surface.
While over-aggressive brushing can be the culprit, gum recession is most often caused by periodontal (gum) disease. Untreated, this bacterial infection triggered by accumulated dental plaque could eventually cause tooth and bone loss, so the sooner it's attended to the better.
On the other hand, if the pain seems to linger after encountering hot or cold foods and liquids, or you have a continuous throbbing pain, you could have advanced tooth decay that's entered the inner pulp where infected tooth nerves are reacting painfully. If so, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp and root canals to prevent further infection.
If you have this kind of pain, see a dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain stops. Cessation of pain may only mean the nerves have died and can no longer transmit pain; the infection, on the other hand, is still active and will continue to advance to the roots and bone.
Tooth pain could also indicate other situations: a cracked tooth, an abscess or even a sinus problem where you're feeling the pain radiating through the teeth. So whatever kind of pain you're feeling, it's your body's alarm signal that something's wrong. Promptly seeing your dentist is the best course of action for preserving your health.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”