Fact Checked

Cavity Pain: Relief, Symptoms, and Causes

Written by Dr. Gibbz

November 16, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. James Younan, DDS

We have all had some form of pain that we have experienced in our lifetime. However, tooth pain is on a whole other level.

Tooth pain is so centered in the head that it is hard to ignore. Plus, mouth pain and food do not play well with each other. Now, imagine if your child has tooth pain. How does that affect their learning abilities while in school? Let's dive into cavity pain a bit more.

What is a cavity?

Dental caries, also known as a cavity, is when the bacteria in your mouth produces enough acid to degrade and break down the outer layer of your teeth called the enamel. Well, how does the bacteria build up so much acid to cause this?

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Cavity Causes


All of us have millions of bacteria in our mouths. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria and both balance each other out.

However, when you have a poor diet and poor oral hygiene, bad bacteria begin to flourish. If there are more bad bacteria than there are good bacteria, well then you have a higher chance of developing tooth decay.

Tooth decay

Bad bacteria in your mouth eat the food particles in your mouth and basically poop out acid. This acid is what breaks down your enamel and causes a cavity to form.

Once the cavity has gone past your enamel, it gets into your dentin. Now we are taking about a full blown dental caries lesion aka, a cavity.

Treating Tooth decay

Your dentist will do a clinical exam inside your mouth and will also take x-rays to see inside the teeth. If the decay has gone past your tooth enamel layer, then you will need dental fillings.

The decay gets drilled out until there is nice and clean tooth structure remaining. Because the decay was drilled out, now there is a hole in the tooth that needs to be filled. That is why it is called a dental filling.

There are various materials used to fill the teeth in: Amalgam, composite, gold, and glass ionomers. I explained the different types of filling materials in another post. Feel free to refer to that if you have any questions about the dental filling options.

Now, what happens if a tooth is not filled?

Untreated decay

If you do not see a dentist regularly, you risk allowing your cavities to grow larger. Some people don't even know that they have a cavity because they experience no symptoms.

Maybe once in a while, there will be a small zinging sensation or some sensitive teeth, but that gets easily ignored. You do not want to do this and here is why.


Your teeth do not heal like the rest of your body. Your dentist needs to physically remove the issue and fill in the cavity for healing to take place. Well, if you leave a cavity untreated, what happens?

The tooth decay will continue to progress deeper into the tooth. It will get into the second layer of the tooth, called the dentin. There, it will expand and continue to move into the pulp or nerve of the tooth. If the bacteria reaches the nerve, now we are talking about some serious pain.

Infected nerve

Once the bacteria has reached the nerve, we have a problem!

The nerve is infected! Now, instead of just getting dental fillings, you have only 2 options:

  1. Root canals

  2. Extract the entire tooth

The bacteria will travel down the nerve and cause a dental infection to form. This infection can make the tooth very hyperactive with jaw pain, ear pain, tooth sensitivity, fever pain, and other painful symptoms.

Dental abscess

When this harmful bacteria gets all the way down the root of your tooth, it is trapped in the space where the tooth root and the bone meet. You body will start to attach this bacteria and as the cells begin to die off, they form pus.

The pus needs space as it will expand so this causes swelling or abscessed teeth. This can also cause your jawbone to resorb and break down, making your tooth loose.

With an infected tooth, you can typically expect intense pain, mouth swelling, sinus infection, sensitivity to hot or cold beverages, and serious dental infection.

If the mouth swelling is not managed, it can get large and force your eye to close shut if on the upper or block your airway if on the lower. These infections are known for causing intense pain and are the main reason people come in for dental emergencies.

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Prevent dental emergencies

Don't wait until you develop a tooth abscess. Dental pain is a sign from your teeth that something is going on. See your dentist.

When you see your dentist on an annual basis, you help to prevent tooth decay which helps to prevent many other issues that can arise from poor oral health such as a dying tooth, tooth fracture, tooth loss, abscessed tooth, and many other conditions.

Managing dental emergencies

When you have a large painful swelling it can be hard to function, to sleep, to eat, and overall, it is extremely bad for your overall health. You need to be treated!

If you go to the local emergency room, the ER doc tor will most likely be prescribing pain medication and antibiotics to control the swelling. He/she will advise you to see your dentist asap as only a dentist can help address this tooth issue for you.

Pain relief

If you have dental pain and there is no swelling, your dentist will most likely recommend that you get your cavity addressed asap, maintain oral hygiene, and start taking over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol and/or Ibuprofen.

Some patients have pain medication sensitivity. It is important that your dentist knows your medical history, so they know what pain medication to prescribe to soothe painful symptoms.

Tooth or mouth pain is not easily ignored, as previously stated. To temporarily soothe tooth pain, salt water rinses can work. Simply mix one teaspoon with one cup of room temperature water and swish around. You can relieve cavity pain using cold or heat therapy as well.

If you have unrelenting ache pain and hope your abscessed tooth stops hurting, you may need antibiotics. Your dentist will determine if you need antibiotics to help ease your pain.

pain relief at home

Clove oil can help soothe cavity pain. Clove oil has been used by many patients to temporarily ease the pain. You can also try dental numbing gels to soothe gum tissue around the sensitive tooth.

Oral hygiene helps in preventing tooth decay. Dental care is extremely important, and prevention is key!

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Seek regular dental care

To catch a mild to moderate cavity before it blows up and leads to a tooth extraction or other serious health problems, visit your dentist. If you do not have a dentist, you can use the American Dental Association tool called, Find A Dentist.

Your dentist can help you take control of your oral health, take care of your cavities, place dental sealants to prevent tooth decay, manage cavity pain, and consult you on your wisdom teeth as they can also cause dental pain, mimicking cavity pain

If you have a tooth abscess, seek prompt treatment. Just a single tooth causing cavity pain can affect your day-to-day function.

Maintain proper oral hygiene and get rid of food particles in your teeth. Don't give the bacteria the food they need to cause cavities. You are in control of your oral health.

- Dr. James Younan, DDS
(AKA Dr. Gibbz, Public Health Dentist)


Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and there is no doctor/patient relationship being established by reading this article. Always consult with your dentist or primary care provider. This article is not intended to offer medical or dental advice to anyone, it is not intended to diagnose any medical or dental conditions that you may have. There are no warranties and/or guarantees being made with the information being presented in this article.