Common Causes of Toothaches & Why You Can’t Ignore Them

That tooth pain you’re feeling could be a bigger problem than you may think. Your body’s systems work together to send internal messages that let you know when something is wrong. Tooth pain is your body’s way of letting you know that your oral health needs attention. There are a number of reasons why you might be feeling achy, and we can help to pinpoint exactly what’s going on.

While you may think something noticeable has to happen to your teeth for you to get a toothache, tooth pain can have a number of causes, and some you may never see coming. An excess of bacteria, impacted wisdom teeth, gingivitis, cavities, or even teeth grinding (bruxism) are just a few examples. Toothaches can also present themselves in many ways, such as inflamed and irritated gums, a bad taste in the mouth due to infection, headache, fever, ache from applied pressure on the gums, and acute, pulsating, or nonstop aches in the mouth.

Although many people experience toothache’s there are actually quite a few different types of tooth pain and different factors contribute to each. Below are the different types of toothaches.

  • Dull, persistent aches – the most common. Could be a sign of an abscessed tooth, teeth grinding, or an object stuck in-between your teeth
  • Sharp, jabbing pain – there’s most likely something wrong with the surface of your tooth, or it could be a loose filling or crown
  • Sensitivity to hot and coldcould be linked to worn enamel. If it persists, it could be a sign of tooth decay or a fracture. Gum disease and exposed tooth roots could also cause temperature sensitivity.
  • Severe, throbbing painrequires an immediate call to your dentist. This is especially the case if the tooth pain is accompanied by other symptoms, such as discolored or bleeding gums.

Tooth Pain: Causes, Treatment, When to See a Dentist

Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth are often the result of poor or worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. However toothaches can also be caused by other factors such as a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth, a worn filling, or gum disease. Sensitive teeth are very common and often one of the main reasons for a toothache. 

Gum Disease

More than three-quarters of Americans over age 35 get gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Gingivitis is the most common type of gum disease, and 5%-15% contract a more severe type of gum disease called periodontitis. Gum disease is caused by poor dental hygiene, resulting in plaque buildup. Over time, the bacteria will cause your gums to become red, bleed, and swell. While many sufferers of gingivitis feel no discomfort, if the disease is left untreated, it could result in pain, severe toothaches, and eventually tooth loss.

Impacted Teeth

If you’re experiencing a toothache in your upper back and bottom molar area and still have your wisdom teeth, there’s a good chance that it’s time for them to be removed. Not removing wisdom teeth when they’re ready to come out can lead to significant pain. Or if you have an impacted tooth that needs to come down and can’t, it can cause significant pain. If the impacted teeth are ready to come out, you’ll notice a tender and possibly red area in the back of your mouth around your molars.

Toothaches Caused By Inflammation

Usually, tooth pain is caused by inflammation that occurs in the soft center of your tooth. For instance, an early cavity that goes untreated could develop into tooth decay, which can cause your tooth to become inflamed. Other, less common causes of inflammation include:

  • Gum disease or periodontitis
  • Chipped or broken teeth
  • Damaged fillings
  • Clenching your jaw
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Infection at the tooth root

Tooth Decay & Cavities

The most common cause for toothaches is a dental cavity. Cavities are usually caused by poor oral hygiene, not brushing or flossing regularly. Cavities in the beginning can not have a strong impact, making them hard to catch early and improving the chances of developing a toothache later on. Your routine cleanings and exams will allow us to ensure you don’t have any cavities and prevent any potential toothaches. If cavities go untreated, they can infect the tooth and eventually lead to tooth loss or worse.


An abscessed tooth is an infection within the tooth that has reached the root tip or around the root. This often results in an infected root, swollen gums, severe pain, and possible bone loss. An abscess can occur when a cavity has reached the pulp chamber. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you could have an abscessed tooth and should call us for an appointment right away:

  • Gum swelling
  • Redness or darkening of the gums
  • Pain when pressing on the affected tooth
  • Throbbing pain that shows no improvement after taking pain medications

Cracked Teeth

Cracked teeth can cause major toothaches, especially with biting pressure and pain during chewing. Cracked teeth can also cause sensitivity to heat or cold which can be extremely painful and uncomfortable. The pain from a cracked tooth may come and go but if it goes untreated a cracked tooth can become infected and eventually result in tooth loss.

Non-Dental Causes

There are other ways you can get a toothache, outside of the mouth. A sinus infection (sinusitis) is the primary “non-dental” cause of a toothache. Pain in the upper back teeth is a fairly common symptom with sinus conditions. The sinuses are pairs of empty spaces in your skull connected to the nasal cavity. If you have sinusitis, the tissues in those spaces become inflamed, often causing toothaches. 

The Dangers of Ignoring a Toothache

The nerves inside your teeth are among the body’s most sensitive. So the pain, throbbing and sensitivity caused by a toothache are hard to ignore. This discomfort provides a powerful incentive to see your dentist right away. But the potential complications of a toothache offer an even stronger reason to seek help immediately.

Dangers of Ignoring Tooth Nerve Pain | Delta Dental

What could happen if you delay seeing a dentist for your toothache:

  • Greater cost and pain: A toothache that goes untreated can lead to more extensive and costly dental procedures such as root canals and crowns. It may even result in tooth loss.

  • Infection that can spread: Effects of a toothache can go beyond your mouth. It can result in an infection that can spread to your jaw, face, neck, heart and brain. Signs of an infection spreading may include a fever, headache, fatigue, dizziness, swelling, dehydration, rapid breathing, increased heart rate and stomach pain.

  • Life-threatening condition: In rare cases, an untreated toothache can take an unexpected turn for the worse. This happens when an infection causes an intense toxic response by your immune system — a condition called sepsis — which can lead to septic shock and even death.

If you are experiencing pain in or around your tooth, make sure you call us right away so we can determine the root of the problem. Immediate remedies before your appointment could include over the counter pain medication or try using a cold compress or rinsing with warm salt water. A toothache accompanied by a fever of 103 F or higher, along with symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, confusion, a skin rash or repeated vomiting, may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Seek immediate treatment from a physician if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.