What is toothache?
Toothache is exactly what its name suggests, an ache that originates from the teeth or jaw area; sometimes mild, it can be extremely severe and should always be referred to a medical professional. Most toothaches are a result of dental problems, either self-inflicted or accidental; they cause the nerves inside the tooth to become inflamed and painful. Lots of things can cause toothache, but the most common culprits are tooth decay, gum disease, and damage from an injury or blow to the mouth.
What causes tooth decay and how can my dentist help?
It’s not always immediately clear where the pain originates from, so the best thing to do is contact your dentist and have your teeth assessed as soon as you can. By reading up a little on the topic, you may be able to help pinpoint to cause of the problem and receive treatment faster.
Cavities – These are usually at the centre of on-going bouts of toothache. Cavities appear as a result of bad dental hygiene, they are holes in the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth that can rot right the way through to the nerve centre, if left untreated. Acids in the mouth start to dissolve the mineral layers if left in contact for too long, causing holes to appear and eventually decay to take hold. Smaller cavities may go unnoticed for some time, but if they become larger over time they can be very painful. Exposing the nerves to bacteria and infection is the overall cause of the pain, more serious cavities will lead to a root canal procedure, but smaller ones can be cleaned out and filled to rebuild the outer layers and protect the inner pulp. If you start to notice occasions when your teeth are particularly painful, you should book an appointment with your dentist; the best way to deal with cavities is quickly, avoiding root canal treatment if at all possible.
Cracked teeth – Broken or fractured teeth will cause immediate, sharp pain as they disintegrate. Most cracked teeth are the result of sudden impact or force, and not usually decay and its associated ailments. Although we may like to think of our teeth as unbreakable, they can be damaged by chewing or biting hard bits of food. Nuts or boiled sweets that are harder than your teeth won’t give way as you bite, so the enamel splits under the pressure. How your dentist proceeds in these circumstances depends on how deep the fissure goes, and whether or not the root has been exposed. Superficial fractures are not usually susceptible to infections, but you will probably know about it if you crack your tooth down to its roots and a root canal will most likely be the best course of action. If a tooth cracks you should contact the emergency dentist immediately as urgent dental treatment is usually required. The emergency dentist will extipate the pulp of the tooth and the remaining structure of the tooth will be covered with a dental crown made from metal or porcelain, or a mixture of the two; this is to keep it functioning as normal and to protect the tooth from further damage.
Growing teeth – New adult teeth can cause all sorts of problems, they generally hurt to some degree when they are erupting from the gum line and can be very difficult if they become impacted under the tissue – which is a fairly common concern with wisdom teeth. The pain from growing teeth will usually subside as the new tooth settles in, but impacted teeth present a slightly more complicated problem. If they would just sit under the gums without issue, they could probably be ignored, but they can cause swelling or infection in the gums and can have a detrimental effect on the position of the surrounding teeth. If you are suffering extreme pain from impacted molars, your dentist will usually choose to remove them surgically, and may offer you some painkillers afterwards to reduce any inflammation.
Gum disease – This is another fairly typical cause of toothache; it is sometimes referred to as periodontal disease. Painless bleeding from the gums is the first symptom of gum disease, if left untreated it will eventually lead to bone loss around the teeth and a distinctly toothless smile. Toothache emanating from diseased gums is a sign of advanced problems that have been left to eat away at the teeth, leading to infections, soreness, receding gums, and quite a lot of pain. If you have a history of gum disease or diabetes in your family, it’s more important than ever that you take good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing twice a day and attending regular check-ups with your dentist – they will be able to spot any warning signs and treat it before it takes hold. Smoking should also be avoided if you’re not a fan of toothache and you would like to keep your teeth in your mouth, where they belong.
If your gum disease gets out of control despite your best efforts, your dentist may be able to help by scheduling a thorough cleaning and root planning procedure, to remove the plaque and tartar that contributes to acid levels in your mouth. Root planning is a process that shaves away the areas of the gum line that have become infected, giving the fresh, healthy tissue a change to grow and regenerate. This might sound painful, but you will be given a local anaesthetic when you go in for treatment, as well as antibiotics afterwards to treat any residual infection.
Sensitive teeth – Exposed roots in the tooth can cause severe toothache when eating or drinking. The nerves inside the teeth are usually protected by several layers of hard minerals, but receding gums can leave them sensitive to different temperatures. Specialist toothpastes are useful for repairing the layers of the teeth to encase the roots again and solve the problem. If you find that the pain persists, your dentist may employ composite bonding to seal the exposed areas, before infection sets in and more invasive procedures are necessary.