Fact Checked

Tooth Pain: Causes and Treatments

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

March 23, 2023

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

If you have dealt with tooth pain before, you know that it's not a walk in the park. Your pain can range from moderate to severe and it can be challenging to find relief. Depending on the cause, your treatment can range from oral surgery to improved oral health habits. If you have tooth pain symptoms that are not going away, it is a good idea to get yourself checked by a dentist professional immediately and receive dental care.

What is tooth pain?

There are many different reasons why you may be suffering from tooth pain. Some causes of pain may be dental-related, while others may not be. Some dental-related reasons may be:

  • Tooth damage
  • Tooth decay
  • Cavity
  • Gum disease or infection
  • Infected tooth

When your tooth is infected or inflamed, you may begin to have tooth pain. The pink tooth pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and tissue. The tooth pulp keeps your tooth healthy and when it gets inflamed or infected this is called pulpitis.

Cavities or cracks in your tooth allow for bacteria and air to go inside your tooth. This can also infect and irritate the tooth pulp inside and leading to sharp pain, throbbing pain, or tooth sensitivity.

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Common tooth pain symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of tooth pain are:

  • A sharp pain or throbbing pain
  • An aching feeling in your tooth
  • Pain while chewing or biting
  • Swollen gums
  • Headaches
  • Discharge from your gums or teeth

Tooth pain is not limited to your age. Both children and adults can experience symptoms. See a dentist if you are experiencing symptoms that do not resolve or are worsening.

Other symptoms of tooth pain

In addition to the symptoms above, you may also experience:

  • Pain when you eat sweet food
  • Tooth Sensitivity
  • Pain or tenderness in your jaw or mouth
  • Pain or aching in the jaw
  • Bad smell or taste in your mouth
  • Fever

If you practice good oral hygiene, you are less likely to suffer from dental issues like dental decay, gum disease, or dental pain. However, if you are experiencing ongoing pain and other symptoms despite good oral care, it is a good idea to visit your dentist for a dental examination and the proper dental care.

How to get rid of tooth pain

If you have pain along with other symptoms that last for more than a few days, it is recommended to see your dentist immediately. Your dentist will determine the cause of your tooth pain after examining you. A dental exam can include a physical exam of your teeth, mouth, and gums, as well as x-rays.

Depending on the cause of your tooth pain, treatment may include:

  • A crown or a filling
  • Scaling to remove plaque buildup above and below your gum line
  • A root canal

It is important to determine the cause of your dental pain so that your dentist can prescribe the correct treatment. Be sure to let your dentist know your medical history and all of your symptoms. After your tooth pain is diagnosed and treated, make sure to follow the American Dental Association oral care guidelines and visit your dentist for regular dental examinations.

Tooth decay

Also known as a cavity, most people with dental pain have tooth decay as the cause. When bacteria enters your tooth through holes or chips, or by eating away at its enamel, it can cause decay.

If you eat lot of sweets, don't use dental floss, or don't brush your teeth regularly, bacteria can build up in your mouth. Plaque is created from this bacteria and can create an acid that leads to erosion and cavities.

Bacteria make plaque that sticks to your teeth. Some kinds of bacteria give off acid that can lead to holes or cavities. Tooth decay might look like small white, brown, or black spots on your teeth.


In order to remedy the pain, your dentist will need to fix the cavity. This can include a dental filling for the cavity.

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Abscessed tooth

A tooth infection or inflammation can cause some or all of the pulp inside your tooth to die. Pus and bacteria is created in the dead tissue and an abscess is formed. This tooth abcess can lead to dental pain.

It is imperative to seek treatment right away if you have a chipped or damaged tooth, as it can lead to an abscess. The hole in your tooth can allow for bacteria to enter and an abscess can be formed.


If you have a tooth abscess, you will may need:

  • A course of antibiotics
  • To drain and clean out the abcess
  • Clean and treat your gums if the cause is gum disease
  • A root canal if it is caused by decay or a damaged tooth
  • An extraction followed by a dental implant

Fractured tooth

A tooth fracture occurs if you bite something hard or fall down and crack or chip your tooth. The pain may begin right away because of the fracture or you may start to feel sensitivity and pain in time. This fracture in your tooth can cause bacteria or food particles to enter your tooth and reach the pulp and nerves, causing sensitive teeth or dental pain.


Treating a fractured tooth quickly is important so that you avoid more dental issues like a cavity or infection. Your dentist may repair the fracture with:

  • A filling
  • A cap or a crown
  • A root canal

Damaged filling

Your dental filling may become compromised and damaged by:

  • Grinding or clinging your teeth
  • Biting into something hard
  • Everyday wear and tear

A damaged filling can cause tooth pain and you will need to get it repaired in order to stop the pain and prevent further dental issues.


Depending on the extent of the damage, your dentist will choose to either repair or replace the filling. If you are unable to get a new filling due to too much damage, your dentist might recommend a crown on your tooth instead.

Gum infection

Also known as gingivitis, a gum infection can lead to dental pain or gum disease. When bacteria from infected gums build around your tooth roots, it can lead to infection of the gum tissue, and eventually, mild to severe pain in your teeth.


Deeper cleaning is often needed as a treatment option. The dentist will clean out all of the affected tissue.

If your gum infection is severe, you may need dental surgery. It is important to see your dentist early for treatment if you suspect that you may have gingivitis.

Grinding your teeth

Known as bruxism, grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw can cause tooth, gum, and jaw pain. This clenching and grinding often happens in your sleep so you may not even be aware that you are doing it.

In addition to dental pain, bruxism can also cause tooth erosion where your enamel gets damaged. This can lead to an increased risk of tooth fracture, pain, and decay. If you have tooth erosion, you might notice:

  • Rough or cracked tooth edges
  • Chipped teeth or fillings
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Thinning teeth


If you are able to treat the cause of bruxism, you will be able to stop your tooth pain. See a dentist to help you determine the best course of treatment. Your dental practitioner may recommend a mouth guard or techniques to help you relieve or manage stress.

Loose crown

Crowns are used to cover your a cracked tooth or tooth with a cavity. It typically covers your whole tooth from the gumline and holds your tooth together. Crowns are usually made of ceramic, porcelain, or metal and is held in place with dental cement.

A loose crown can happen due to:

  • Regular wear and tear
  • A cracked or chipped tooth
  • Cement glue gets washed out
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • Biting down on something hard

When your crown is loose, it can lead to dental pain. Bacteria can enter your crown and may lead to a tooth infection and nerve pain.


Your dentist will choose to either repair or replace the loose crown. If there is tooth decay or tooth damage, the best option may be to remove the crown, treat the tooth, and replace it with a new crown.

Erupting teeth

Erupting teeth are new and growing teeth. This usually happens in babies, children with teeth growing in, and adults with wisdom teeth growing in. The pain from erupting teeth can be felt in your jaw, surrounding teeth, and gums.

If a tooth is blocked from growing through the gums, it will lead to an impacted tooth. Impacted teeth are usually caused by:

  • Overcrowding
  • A baby tooth that hasn’t fallen out
  • Genetics
  • Cyst in your mouth

If you have an impacted tooth, it could damage the roots of teeth nearby or cause other teeth to move. This can lead to gum or dental pain.


Use an oral numbing gel or over-the-counter pain medication to relieve pain from an erupting tooth. If you need further treatment, your dentist might suggest a minor dental surgery like an extraction to make room for other teeth and remove the impacted tooth.

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Other causes of tooth pain 

If the dental issues above are not causing your dental pain, it may be due to: 

  • Food particles stuck in between your teeth
  • An abnormal bite
  • A sinus infection 

Non-dental causes of tooth pain 

Sometimes you may have tooth pain that is not directly related to your teeth, gums, or jaw. Some of these causes can include:

  • Cluster headache: These types of headaches cause pressure in the side of your face, eyes, or forehead. It can also cause dental pain. 

  • Sinus infection: Pressure from your sinuses can create pain in your back teeth, near your sinus cavities. Treating the sinus infection can get rid of tooth pain. 

  • Diabetes: If you have diabetes, uncontrolled blood sugar can increase your risk for tooth decay.

  • Drug abuse: Those who abuse Methamphetamine have suffered from dental pain.

  • Vitamin deficiency: Low vitamin B12 levels can lead to tooth pain. 

  • Viral infections: The viral infection, shingles, can cause dental pain.

  • Nerve diseases: Trigeminal neuralgia can cause a sharp pain on one side of your face.

Jaw pain 

Though you may feel pain in your tooth or teeth, you might feel the pain radiating more from your jaw, gums, or mouth. This type of pain can be caused by: 

  • Temporomandibular Disorders: Disorders like TMJ are characterized by tooth grinding or clenching of the jaw. It can lead to dislocation of the temporomandibular joint and pain in your jaw, gums, or teeth. 

  • Mouth Cancer: Symptoms of mouth cancer include numbness, swelling, bumps, or bleeding in your facial, mouth, or neck region. 

  • Malocclusion: This is the term for an uneven bite or crooked teeth. If the malocclusion is sever, you may feel facial or jaw pain. Braces or teeth straightening methods can remedy this issue. 

Seeking medical care for a toothache

If you are suffering from a toothache, it is always a good idea to get yourself checked out by your dental professional sooner rather than later. Dental issues get worse with time, so receiving an accurate diagnosis of your dental pain is best done as soon as possible. 

See your dentist about your tooth pain when: 

  • You have pain for more than a few days and over-the-counter pain medication does not relieve it. 

  • You recently had a tooth extraction and have severe pain after the procedure. 

  • The dental pain is accompanied by a fever, facial or gum swelling, or discharge around your tooth. These symptoms may indicate a fever or dental abscess.  

  • You lose or break a tooth. If your tooth chips or completely breaks, see your dentist as soon as possible.

  • You have dental pain in your third molars due to erupting wisdom teeth. This can cause inflammation or even infection and pain can be felt in your teeth, gums, and jaw. 

  • You have chills or a high fever. This could mean that you have an infection that is not limited to your teeth or mouth. 

  • You have had a serious head or facial injury in addition to nausea, vomiting, headache, or giddiness.  

  • You experience chest pain along with jaw or dental pain. This may indicate a more serious heart disease such as angina or a heart attack. If you have a heart condition and have symptoms such as shortness of breath, sweating, or lightheadedness, see your doctor as soon as possible.  

  • You are experiencing excessive pain or bleeding from your gums, especially if you have a history of a weakened immune system, steriod use, or diabetes. If you have such history, you may be more susceptiable to infections. These infections can become more severe, even if they are dental or gum infections. It is important to receive treatment to avoid the from infection worsening. 

What to expect from your dental visit 

When you arrive for your appointment, tell your dental professional about the symptoms that you may be experiencing. In order to correctly diagnose your dental pain, your dentist may:

  • Ask you about your medical history 
  • Perform an oral exam 
  • Perform x-rays 

In some cases, the dentist may choose to do a lab evaluation including ECG tracings of the heart. If the issue is not dental related or if it needs further medical attention, your dentist may refer you to another medical professional for treatment. 

Medical treatment for toothaches

The treatment for your toothache depends on the cause of the dental pain. Once your dentist diagnosis the cause of your tooth pain, the doctor will determine the best course of treatment. Your medical treatment will likely include: 

  • A dental procedure: Depending on the cause of your pain, this could include an extraction, dental filling, or dental replacement. Your dentist may choose to do teeth cleaning or scaling, or even a root canal if the issue is more severe.

  • An antibiotic prescription: Used to treat or prevent an infection, your dentist will likely prescribe antibiotics if you have swelling or a fever. Make sure to complete the full course of antibiotics.

  • Pain management medication: Depending on if your pain is from your teeth or jaw, your dentist will suggest certain over-the-counter pain medications to manage your condition. 

Post-treatment care

After receiving a diagnosis and treatment for your tooth pain from your dentist, continue to do the following:

  • Practice good oral hygiene habits: Continue to brush and floss your teeth daily. If your dentist prescribed you a medicated mouthwash, be sure to use that as well. 

  • Take the medications prescribed by your dentist: Make sure that you follow the instructions for your medication. If you are prescribed antibiotics, complete the entire course and don't stop taking it even though you may feel better. 

  • Contact your dentist if you notice any concerning symptoms: If your dental pain increases or if you begin to have severe symptoms such as a fever or excessive bleeding, reach out to your dentist as soon as you can. 

Toothache prevention

If you see your dentist regularly for checkups and practice good oral hygiene, you will most likely be able to avoid dental problems and toothache. Try to practice the following in order to prevent tooth pain or dental issues: 

  • Maintain good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth at least twice a day, or ideally, after every meal. Brushing removes food particles and promotes healthy gums and teeth. Try not to brush too hard, use a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, and floss your teeth once a day. You can also rinse with mouthwash to fight plaque and gum disease and remove bacteria. 

  • Eat a healthy diet: Bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease feed off of sugars and starches. While you don’t need to avoid these foods completely, be mindful of your sugar intake and be sure to brush your teeth after you eat sugary or starchy foods. 

  • Have your teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist: It is a good idea to have your teeth professionally cleaned at least two times a year. Doing so can prevent plaque build up which can lead to gum disease or tooth decay. 

  • See your dentist regularly: When you go for cleanings, make sure that your dentist does a quick check-up to see if there are any dental issues that have arisen over the six months since your last checkup. 

  • Keep your dental appliances clean: If you have a bridge, dentures, or mouth guard, wash and clean them regularly to avoid bacterial build-up. 

  • Take care of your teeth: If you play contact sports, wear protective gear in order to prevent any dental injuries. When eating chewy or hard foods, be mindful of your teeth. 

  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, try your best to quit. Cigarettes can worsen certain dental conditions. 


There are many reasons why you may have tooth pain including tooth decay, and infection, a tooth fracture, or gum disease. In some cases, your toothache may not be dental-related at all. Certain issues like vitamin deficiency, sinus infection, or cluster headache may be the cause of your toothache. 

The treatment for your toothache depends on the cause. Once your dentist or doctor is able to diagnose the issue, a course of treatment can be decided upon. For dental problems, treatment may include cleaning or scaling, dental surgery, fililing replacements, and antibiotics. For non-dental related causes, it is important to treat the underlying condition which may be a sinus infection, heart disease, or other medical issues. 

Prevention is key to avoiding dental pain. Keep good oral hygiene, avoid certain foods, and see your dentist regularly for cleaning and checkups every six months. Regular visits with your dentist can prevent dental issues from worsening. Visit your dentist as soon as you can if you are experiencing tooth pain in order to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main causes of tooth pain? 

Tooth pain has many different causes which can be dental-related or non-dental related. Dental-related causes include tooth decay, tooth abscess, fractured tooth, damaged filling, gum infection, bruxism, a loose crown, or erupting teeth. Non-dental related causes include heart issues, sinus infection, cluster headaches, and certain infections, diseases, or disorders. Visit your dentist to determine the cause of your tooth pain. 

How can I prevent tooth pain?

For tooth pain that is caused by dental issues, the best prevention is good oral hygiene and regular dental visits. Because issues like decay, abscesses, and gum disease can cause tooth pain, having good dental habits can prevent those dental issues from occurring. 

What is good oral hygiene? 

To practice good oral hygiene, follow the American Dental Association home oral care guidelines. This includes:

  • Brush with a soft toothbrush at least twice a day 
  • Use toothpaste with fluoride 
  • Floss once a day
  • Don't smoke
  • Be mindful of hard or chewy foods
  • Avoid too many sugary, acidic, or starchy foods 
  • Visit your dentist regularly for cleaning and checkups 

How can I treat my toothache at home?

If you are experiencing tooth pain, it is always a good idea to see a dentist.. However, if you are looking to treat the pain before your appointment, you can: 

  • Take over-the-counter pain medication
  • If your teeth are sensitive, avoid very hot or very cold foods
  • Use clove oil on a cotton ball and gently dab it on the painful area
  • Use toothpaste made for sensitive teeth