Why Do My Teeth Hurt?

Whether it's sharp and sudden or dull and constant, tooth pain is hard to ignore. The first step toward relief is to find out what's wrong.

Could It Be Sensitive Teeth?

If your teeth are healthy, a hard outer layer of enamel covers them to protect the nerves inside. The enamel can wear away over time. When the middle layer of your tooth is exposed, anything you eat or drink can reach your nerve endings. You'll feel a couple seconds of pain when something hot or cold hits them. Sweet or acidic foods may bother you, too.

Gum disease also can make your teeth sensitive. Your gums shrink away from your teeth and that exposes the roots. You also can damage your gums if you brush too hard.

A recent cleaning or a new filling may make you sensitive for a few weeks. Many people feel it after whitening treatments. An old filling that's loose or damaged can cause it, too.

Could It Be a Damaged Tooth?

Your teeth come under attack every time you eat. Bacteria cling to them until you brush them away. They produce acid, which makes the holes in your enamel called cavities.

Or you could have a crack in a tooth that's exposed the sensitive inner layers. Maybe you bit down on a cherry pit or were hit in the face during softball.

A cavity or a crack can cause sharp pain along with sensitivity when you bite down. The longer the pain lingers, the more serious the damage is likely to be.

If it's deep enough, a cavity or crack can let bacteria into the inner layer, called pulp, of your tooth. The pulp can become infected, and that can lead to a buildup of pus called an abscess. The infection can spread to tissue and bone, too. An abscess causes severe, throbbing pain that doesn't stop.

Other symptoms include:

 

Do You Grind Your Teeth?

This is a common problem brought on by stress, sleep disorders, or a bite issue. If you grind your teeth while you sleep, it can wear away your enamel and even cause a crack. You may feel dull pain in your teeth or jaw or get headaches.

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Could It Be Your Wisdom Teeth?

Teething hurts whether you're a baby or an adult. You're likely to feel it when your wisdom teeth start to push through your gums. Food can get stuck under the gum and cause decay and infection.

Could the Problem Be Outside Your Mouth?

Your teeth may hurt because of an issue somewhere else in your body. That's called referred pain. It can come from:

  • Certain kinds of headaches, like cluster and migraine
  • Clogged or infected sinuses
  • Problems in the joint or muscles that connect your jaw to your skull

In rare cases, a heart attack can cause tooth pain. It's also a symptom of certain nerve diseases.

What Should You Do?

Don't put off a trip to the dentist if your teeth hurt. Cavities and cracks get worse over time.

If you grind your teeth, your dentist can make a bite guard for you to sleep in.

You can manage some problems yourself. Special toothpastes can reduce sensitivity. And you can reverse early gum disease when you brush and floss correctly.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alfred D. Wyatt Jr., DMD on June 1, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Dental Association.

Oral Health Foundation: "Sensitive teeth."

American Academy of Periodontology: "Gum Disease Information."

National Health Service: "Toothache."

Pray, W. US Pharmacist, 2007.

University of Maryland Medical Center.

American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: "Wisdom Teeth Management."

Academy of General Dentistry: "When to Remove Wisdom Teeth."

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