From sharp, shooting jolts to a dull throbbing that just doesn’t let up, identifying what types of toothaches you’re feeling is often straightforward. 

But what does the pain actually mean? And what should you do about it? 

Here are the 5 most common types of toothaches and how to treat them.

1. Temperature Sensitivity

Can you envision the sharp jolt of pain shooting through your teeth just from watching someone else take a deep, sinking bite into their ice cream cone?

You’re not alone. Around 40% of the population has sensitive teeth. But did you know that this jarring pain isn’t just an indicator of sensitive teeth? It can also be a sign that a tooth is decaying or infected.

Teeth can become sensitive when the dentin layer becomes exposed as the enamel is worn down. Enamel is the hard, outermost protective layer of your teeth and the hardest tissue in the human body. Enamel is strong but not infallible. Acids, both from food and bacteria in plaque, can break down enamel. Enamel can also be worn down from aggressive brushing, habitual grinding, and the overuse of whitening products. The body does not continuously produce this layer the way it does other tissues, which means once your enamel is gone, it’s gone.

If you are experiencing temperature sensitivity, the first thing to do is begin using toothpaste specifically for sensitivity, such as Sensodyne. To ensure your toothpaste has been proven effective and contains enamel-strengthening fluoride, look for the American Dental Association seal of approval on the front of the box. If after two weeks of use you are still experiencing sensitivity, it may be that the cause of your pain is from decay or infection. 

Book an appointment with your dentist to have a dental examination and determine the cause of your sensitivity.  

If you have severe sensitivity, your pain management plan may include fluoride treatments, bonding, or gum grafts for teeth whose dentin has been exposed due to gum recession.

If pain is caused by a cavity, the decay will be removed, and the tooth will be restored with a dental filling. If the pulp, a bundle of blood vessels and nerves inside the barrel of the tooth, has become inflamed or infected, the tooth will require root canal therapy. 

Decay, inflammation, and infection won’t go away on their own and require treatment as soon as possible. Left untreated, they can lead to the development and further spread of infection, as well as tooth loss. 

2. Dull and Persistent

Pain that is dull but persistent can occur when a piece of debris has become lodged between the teeth, causing uncomfortable pressure. If you are experiencing these types of toothaches, start by thoroughly flossing between your teeth to dislodge any particles that may have become stuck. Use an 18-inch piece of string floss wound about your pointer fingers, leaving two inches of working space between them. Gently work the floss between your teeth and gums, moving the string to gently hug around one tooth and then the other. You may also want to swish with either a mouth rinse or saline solution to loosen or remove any offending debris. 

If flossing and swishing do not help to remedy the pain, it may be that a more serious dental issue is at hand. A dull, persistent toothache is also a sign that the tooth has become abscessed. If this is the case, the tooth will require root canal therapy to remove the infected tissue. Give your dental office a call to book an examination with your dentist to find the cause of your tooth pain.

3. Inconsistent Jabbing 

If you are experiencing an inconsistent jabbing pain in a tooth, you should book an examination with your dentist as soon as possible. There are several reasons you may be experiencing these types of toothaches, and none of them can be remedied at home. 

One cause for this type of pain can be from a crown or filling that has become loose. If this is the case, you will need to have the offending restoration repaired. This type of pain can also happen when a tooth has become cracked, fractured, or severely affected by decay. All of these instances also require immediate attention and restoration. 

Whether the toothache is from a loose filling or crown—or in need of one—it is important to get treatment right away. Not only can a loose restoration, chip, crack, or decay all worsen when left untreated, they also can lead to a serious, and painful, infection. 

4. Intense Throbbing 

An intense, throbbing pain is a sign of a very serious infection of either the dental pulp, gums, bone, or all three. These types of toothaches are often accompanied by the swelling of the surrounding gums or face. Gums may also be discolored or bleeding.

If the infection is of the dental pulp, root canal therapy will be required to remove the affected tissue. If the source of the infection is gum disease, treatment will start with a deep cleaning involving scaling and root planing procedures followed by a maintenance routine of periodontal cleanings. During the scaling procedure, plaque and tartar are removed from deep within the periodontal pockets that have formed below the gumline. This procedure is followed by root planing, in which the root surfaces of the teeth are smoothed out so the surrounding gum tissue can heal and reattach itself to the surface of the tooth. 

Treatment should be sought out immediately, as serious infection can make you very ill and can cause severe damage as it spreads throughout the mouth.

5. Back of the Jaw 

A toothache located in the back of the jaw can be from wisdom teeth erupting to the surface. This can be especially painful if the wisdom tooth attempting to erupt is impacted. An impacted tooth is one that is either not erupting directly upwards due to forming at an angle or has little to no room in the mouth to emerge.   

The only course of treatment for an impacted wisdom tooth is removal. Left to remain, the impacted tooth can, at best, cause painful and unsightly overcrowding or, worse, lead to infection and an abscess. 

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