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Tooth Pain

Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Top 8 Tooth Pain Causes

1. Cavities

Dental cavities and tooth decay occur when bacteria builds up on teeth to develop plaque. When plaque stays on the teeth, acids from the plaque can eat through tooth enamel to create small holes called cavities. Cavities normally cause tooth pain when they become big enough to affect and expose the nerves in your teeth. Foods high in sugar, starch, and carbohydrates increase the risk for tooth decay and cavities.[1]

2. Cracked or Broken Tooth

A cracked tooth or tooth fracture can expose the nerves in your teeth to food, drink, and other substances that cause pain and sensitivity. A chipped tooth can also cause tooth pain if nerves are exposed. Broken teeth can be a result of excessive teeth grinding, cavities, trauma to the face or mouth, poor hygiene, and biting into hard objects or foods such as nuts.[2]

3. Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity develops when the enamel on teeth wears away to expose the inner layer of the tooth, called dentin. Dentin that becomes stimulated by foods, drink, air, and extreme temperatures can affect the nerves inside the teeth, causing tooth pain. Sodas, wine, coffee, ice cream, and acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits can worsen tooth sensitivity.[3]

4. Grinding Teeth

The medical term for clenching and grinding teeth is bruxism; it can happen at any time during the day or night, but it tends to be more common during sleep. Bruxism puts pressure on the muscles, tissues, and structures around the jaw, causing tooth pain. Factors that cause teeth grinding include stress, anxiety, diet, sleeping habits, posture, and teeth alignment. Sometimes bruxism is loud enough to disturb and wake sleeping partners, and it could cause the jaw and teeth to feel achy in the morning.[4]

5. New or Old Fillings

Dental fillings, also known as dental amalgams, fill and cover cavities, pits, and grooves that expose nerves and other vulnerable parts of your teeth to food, bacteria, and other substances that can trigger tooth pain. New fillings can make your teeth feel sensitive for a week or two, and old fillings can become loose or damaged and re-expose the nerves in your teeth, triggering pain.[5]

6. Headaches

Cluster and migraine headaches can directly and indirectly cause tooth pain.[6] The head and jaw share some of the same sensory nerves, so headaches, migraines, and tooth pain commonly co-occur. Factors such as muscle clenching, jaw tightening, and teeth grinding also cause an ongoing cycle of tension headaches and tooth pain.[7]

7. Sinusitis

A sinus infection can lead to inflammation in the maxillary sinuses, located near the upper rear teeth to cause dull, throbbing tooth pain. Many times, clogged or infected sinuses can produce symptoms that feel like a toothache.[8] Tooth pain caused by sinusitis normally goes away on its own at the same time as the sinusitis.

8. Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are the third set of molars at the back of the mouth and are generally the last teeth to erupt, usually between the ages of 17 and 25. Many adults lack the space in their mouths for wisdom teeth due to a soft modern diet. Wisdom teeth that attempt to grow in where there’s no room can cause extreme tooth pain.[9] Many people choose to remove wisdom teeth to prevent tooth pain, but some can leave their wisdom teeth in without experiencing pain or other symptoms.

Possible Health Conditions Related to Tooth Pain

Gum Disease

Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is present when gingivitis and inflammation deteriorate gums and teeth to result in tooth pain, decay, and tooth or bone loss. Gum disease can be caused by smoking, medications, and certain medical conditions, including diabetes and AIDS. In addition to causing tooth pain, gum disease might produce symptoms of chronic bad breath, receding gums, bleeding gums, and loose teeth.[10]


A tooth abscess is a bacterial infection caused by pus buildup in the center of a tooth. An abscess can be triggered by tooth decay or a chipped or broken tooth that allows bacteria to infect the inside of the tooth. Toothache is the primary symptom of a tooth abscess, but other symptoms include fever, bad breath, pain when chewing, tooth sensitivity, and swollen glands in the neck.[11]

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)

TMJ is the umbrella name for a group of disorders that cause pain and dysfunction in the joints and muscles that control the jaw. The exact cause of these disorders is unknown, but they might be linked to traumas that affect the jaw or temporomandibular joint. Symptoms of TMJ include extreme tooth pain, stiffness of the jaw, locking of the jaw, limited range of jaw movement, and a painful popping, clicking, or grating when using the jaw.[12]

Heart Attack

Jaw and tooth pain are often some of the first symptoms of a heart attack.[13] Pain caused by a heart attack can radiate to the jaw and teeth in the form of referred pain, which can lead some to mistake heart attack symptoms for dental problems. Other symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and weakness.[14]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Tooth Pain

  • When did the tooth pain begin?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing along with tooth pain?
  • Do certain foods and substances trigger your tooth pain?
  • Have you recently experienced trauma or a blow to the face or jaw?
  • Have you recently had dental treatment?
  • Is your tooth pain constant?
  • Does tooth pain only occur when you eat?
  • Where is the tooth pain located?
  • How severe is your tooth pain?
  • Do any remedies relieve your tooth pain?
  • Is there more than one tooth causing pain or sensitivity?
  • Is your tooth pain becoming progressively worse?

Tooth Pain May Also Be Known as

  • Toothache
  • Dental pain


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