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Toothache is no ordinary pain. It can be one of the most unpleasant types of pain you can experience.

Many people wonder why toothache is so sore. Along with the pain, you may also be dealing with sensitive teeth and difficulty with eating and drinking. Toothache pain is real, it’s in your head and it can make it hard to go about your day and even think straight.

A lot of tooth pain is caused by inflammation in the pulp or inside part of the tooth. The pulp of each tooth contains lots of nerve endings that are highly sensitive to pain. This can cause the often constant throbbing pain that makes toothache especially unbearable.

Symptoms of toothache

Toothache is any pain, soreness or ache felt in or around a tooth. It’s not just one type of pain. That means it’s sometimes hard to even describe what you’re experiencing to your dentist. The pain can be sharp, dull, throbbing or constant.

In some cases, the pain is only felt when you put pressure on the tooth. Your tooth might also be particularly sensitive to hot or cold temperatures. Pain with chewing is also fairly common.

Other symptoms could include a swollen gum around the tooth or deeper in your jaw, headaches and high fevers. You might also have bleeding from your tooth or bleeding gums. In the case of infection you might have foul-tasting fluid leaking from around the tooth.

Causes of toothache

Toothache is caused by both dental and medical factors. Dental causes of toothache may be related to your teeth, gums or jaw. Of all toothaches that our dentists see each day, the most common causes are:

Sometimes the pain is caused by a damaged filling or from sensitive teeth. Periodontitis or an abscess or infection in the tooth are also common. Gingivitis, or gum disease, can cause toothache, yet these can also be painless in some people. Toothache can also be caused by pain in other areas that radiate to the jaw. This is called referred pain. One common area is the temporomandibular or jaw joint, known as TMJ. Other less common medical causes of toothache include ear pain, sinus infections, shingles and sometimes even heart problems.

Get prepared

When you book at one of our dental practices for toothache you just want your pain to end. That’s understandable. It’s useful to think ahead about what your dentist will need to know to diagnose and treat your toothache.

Generally your dentist will ask you about your medical history and then thoroughly examine your mouth, teeth, gums, jaw, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose and neck. You may also need an x-ray, depending on what your dentist suspects might be the cause of your toothache.

Your dentist will ask you some questions about the pain, such as:

  • When did your toothache start?
  • How severe is the pain?
  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • What makes it worse?
  • What makes it better?

Think about your answers to these questions before your appointment. Being prepared can speed up the diagnosis.

Related treatments

Your dentist will examine your mouth carefully, to diagnose the cause of your toothache. You may need one of these common treatments:

Have questions?

The price of treating toothache varies depending on what is causing the pain. Toothache can be a symptom of something serious, so we recommend that you see a dentist to check it out. Your dentist will be able to diagnose the cause and advise you about the cost of treatment. When you book online for toothache, simply select an appointment for toothache or emergency.

Toothache can feel so different to other aches and pains in your body. It can be extraordinarily intense. It’s often severe and can worsen quickly. If you try to neutralise the pain in a tooth, it can be hard to get comfortable. The nerves in your teeth don’t feel heat, cold or touch. When they’re stimulated, their only response is pain. On top of that, teeth have a lot of neural connections that lead directly to your brain’s pain centre.

Toothache stimulates your dental nerves to an intense degree and this contributes to why it can be more severe at night. This nerve stimulation activates your brain and can keep you awake. And sometimes the anxiety from staying awake can disrupt your sleep even more. In some cases what you eat for dinner might aggravate a painful tooth. Food that is very hot, cold, sugary, acidic or starchy can quickly make an underlying toothache issue worse. It’s often true that at night, without the distraction of daily activities, pain can seem more obvious and feel worse. Sometimes toothache gets worse when you lie down because blood rushes to your head, which then puts extra pressure on the already sensitive areas in your mouth.

Toothache is often caused by swelling so anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen are usually the most effective. If you can’t take ibuprofen then paracetamol can help. Rather than reducing inflammation, paracetamol works by blocking nerve signals to the brain. Aspirin can be effective for reducing inflammation and fever. But because of aspirin’s ability to reduce blood clotting it is not recommended if you’ve knocked out a tooth or need a tooth extracted. You should also not place an aspirin tablet directly on the sore tooth. It’s an acid and may burn your gums. When you visit your dentist, they can prescribe stronger painkillers than what you can buy over the counter in a pharmacy.

We get it. We’re New Zealand’s largest group of dentists so we’ve seen more scared patients than any other dental practice in the country. For most people who are scared about visiting the dentist it’s because they’ve had a bad experience in the past. Relax. Our gentle and compassionate dentists understand how you feel. Whether you’re anxious or worried about experiencing more pain or the potential cost of the treatment, the best thing to do is to let us know how you feel. Making sure you feel comfortable is part of our job.

Yes. You can greatly reduce your chances of getting toothache by taking good care of your oral health. That means a combination of at-home dental care and building a great relationship with your dentist.

We recommend daily healthy habits and regular visits to the dentist. For optimum oral health:

  • Practice good oral hygiene habits at home including brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day
  • Book hygiene visits with an oral hygienist or oral health therapist twice each year
  • Book routine exam and x-rays visits with your dentist once each year

The Lumino Dental Plan is a cost-effective way to ensure your oral health is given the priority it deserves. It’s an affordable ongoing subscription plan that keeps you on top of your oral health. We know that when you look after your oral health properly with regular preventative care, you’ll be less likely to need to see a dentist in an emergency. You’re also likely to spend less money at the dentist over time.

The short answer is yes. In some situations toothache or tooth sensitivity can come and go. If this happens it’s probably a reversible inflammatory response by your tooth. Your relief may be short lived though. Only after a dentist has made a proper diagnosis about the cause of your pain can you potentially avoid further damage and find a permanent pain solution. To get the right treatment you really do need a professional assessment and diagnosis by a dentist.

If your pain is minor there are a few things you can try before you see your dentist. Apply an ice pack to the area and take painkillers for short-term relief. Some people recommend cloves or clove oil applied directly to the tooth, or topical anaesthetic like the gels used for teething babies. You can also try rinsing your mouth with warm salt water. You may find the pain soon gets worse if there is an underlying issue. That’s why it’s important to get checked out by a dentist even if you manage to get some temporary relief from the pain.

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