7 Types of Tooth Pain and What They Mean

tooth pain

Learn what your tooth Pain is telling you about your oral health.

Nothing can put a damper on a good day quite like a toothache. At best, a toothache is an irritating sensation, and at worst, it could mean a trip to the ER. In fact, around 2 million patients end up in the emergency room due to extreme tooth pain.

While it’s hard to estimate just how many people experience toothaches every year, the number is quite high since over a quarter of adults in the U.S. have untreated tooth decay, the number one cause of toothaches.

What you may not know about toothaches is the pain you’re experiencing during one can actually give you a clue as to what the underlying problem may be. If you’ve gone to the dentist for a toothache before, your dentist likely asked you to describe how the pain, soreness, or sensitivity felt. The reason for this is the sensation of pain, regularity or irregularity of flare-ups, and the location of the pain gives your dentist important insight for making their diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing a toothache and are curious about what might be going on, here is a breakdown of 7 common types of tooth pain and what they may mean.

1. During meals or while drinking, you’re experiencing momentary temperature sensitivity that subsides within a few moments.

Momentary temperature sensitivity is any sensitivity or pain directly related to exposure to hot or cold that usually only lasts about a minute or so.

Causes of momentary temperature sensitivity can include untreated tooth decay, a receding gum line, or a loose filling. If you recently got dental work done, it isn’t uncommon to feel sensitive. However, if you’re past the healing period and are still feeling unusual sensitivity, it could be a sign of a problem, and you should schedule a dental visit.

2. During meals or while drinking, you’re experiencing lingering temperature sensitivity that lasts for hours.

If your temperature sensitivity is truly painful and lasts for an hour or more after exposure to the food/drink item, this is a definite sign of a dental issue. You may also experience a dull throbbing sensation within the sensitive tooth/teeth.

Lingering temperature sensitivity pain often points to serious decay that has reached deep down into the tooth socket. The decay wears away the enamel layer of the tooth, leaving the pulp within the tooth exposed and causing that sharp jolt of tooth pain when eating hot or cold food items.

3. You’re experiencing a dull but persistent aching localized around one or more teeth.

A nagging toothache is one of the most common types of toothaches. They aren’t usually severe enough to warrant an ER visit, but they are painful, and the constant dull ache is enough to drive you crazy. Usually, this type of pain is localized to one tooth, but it can feel as though multiple teeth are affected, especially when an infection and swelling are already present.

A dull, nagging toothache usually sets in when tooth decay breaks down the enamel layer and begins to affect the inside of the teeth, eventually reaching the nerve. Without treatment, this dull, nagging toothache will get quite severe, and an infection will set in.

4. You’re experiencing an intense throbbing pain radiating throughout your mouth or deep into your jaw.

When a nagging toothache isn’t treated, it will eventually cause an intense throbbing pain that radiates throughout the mouth and even feels like it’s shooting deep into your jaw. This is extremely serious, and it’s crucial you schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately.

This level of pain, more often than not, means there is exposed tooth pulp and a bad infection/abscess. Infections of any kind are dangerous, but oral infections are particularly hazardous. When an oral infection runs rampant or an abscess bursts, it can easily spread to the bloodstream and/or begin to break down the delicate tissues and bones within the jaw and cheeks.

5. You’re experiencing a momentary sharp pain from tooth contact during meals or while brushing your teeth.

If your teeth feel fine until they make contact with one another or a food item while eating, you could have a loose filling or crown, a cracked or broken tooth, or a deep cavity. If you feel a sensation of pressure, as well as pain, when you bite down, there could also be an abscess present around the tooth.

Even if you only feel this sharp pain randomly, it’s still a sign of trouble and should be checked out by your dentist to prevent it from worsening.

6. You’re experiencing pain around your gums and teeth when brushing or flossing.

While it might be common for gums to lightly bleed while flossing, this is actually an abnormal reaction that only seems ”normal” because over half of adults have gingivitis or gum disease. If you experience bleeding, tenderness, and pain while brushing or flossing, it’s a sign of gum inflammation. You may even be able to look at your gums in the mirror and notice a puffy, red look from swelling. 

Pain relating to the gums and teeth should also be evaluated by your dentist. When inflammation or gingivitis is left untreated, it will eventually turn into a serious gum disease called periodontitis.

7. You’re experiencing jaw and/or tooth pain when you wake up in the morning.

Waking up with a sore jaw and teeth can occur from sleeping in a funny position, but when it happens regularly, it could be due to a condition known as bruxism. Bruxism is a disorder in which a person subconsciously grinds or clenches their teeth. This commonly occurs at night and most typically results in waking up with a sore jaw, tenderness, and a headache.

If this sounds like something you’re experiencing, it’s extremely important to see your dentist for a consultation. Even though pain related to bruxism doesn’t necessarily mean you have an actual tooth issue, if left untreated, you can permanently damage your teeth by wearing them down from grinding or chipping them from gnashing.

Get your toothache under control with Monroe Family Dentistry.

Experiencing a toothache is far from a pleasant experience, but the good news is, in most cases, your dentist will be able to help you get your pain under control quickly.

Although there are some home remedies for dealing with a toothache, these are only ways to manage the symptoms of an untreated issue. The only way to stop toothaches from occurring is to seek help from your dentist, both in terms of keeping up with biannual preventive health visits and scheduling immediate appointments at the first sign of tooth trouble.

If it’s been over six months since your last visit or you’re currently experiencing a toothache, give us a call to schedule an appointment or use the online Request an Appointment form found on our Contact page.