Reasons Your Teeth Are Hurting (And What To Do About It)

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Medically reviewed by Danielle Romatz, RDH

Many people experience some sort of toothache at some point, and the discomfort often grows nastier when brushing, eating, or drinking. Sometimes, however, you might feel a sharp flash of pain in or around your teeth for no apparent reason. So, what makes your teeth hurt in the first place, and can you address the pain?

Your teeth may be hurting because you’ve developed sensitivity from thin enamel and receding gums. Pain can also occur because your tooth is cracked or you have a bacterial infection. If the pain is serious or lasts more than a couple days, it’s time to visit the dentist.

If you only feel a minor irritation in your teeth, it may be a relatively harmless issue that home remedies can alleviate. But if it’s anything worse, you should get professional help as soon as possible. Let’s take a closer look at what makes your teeth hurt, the at-home remedies available, and when to see a dentist.

What Causes Tooth Pain?

Young beautiful woman with tooth pain

Many things can cause a toothache, from a piece of candy to a cereal husk stuck in your gum. In most cases, it’s because you’ve developed sensitivity, your tooth is cracked, or you have a bacterial infection.

There’s a lot of science that goes into why you perceive the pain in your teeth, so let’s just touch on it in the simplest way possible. 

Below the hard outer cover of your tooth (the enamel) is the dentin, and then a soft material called the pulp. The pulp contains the nerve and blood supply to the tooth, and it’ll make you feel pain whenever it becomes irritated or infected.

With that in mind, here are some of the main reasons your teeth might be hurting:

Jaw Clenching or Teeth Grinding

Dentists agree that one of the major causes of tooth pain is clenching your jaws. Whether you do it when angry, concentrating, or in a tense situation, it can affect your teeth and jaw.

Remember, your teeth have to bear unnecessary pressure every time you clench your jaw. As your teeth endure the force of your jaw, you may begin to experience sensitivity due to recession and bone loss, the feeling of soreness in your teeth and jaw, and/or headaches.

If you have toothaches or feel jaw pains after you’ve experienced anger and stress, chances are high you’ve been clenching your jaw. In that case, it’s important you find alternative ways of coping with emotions and stress to keep the tooth pain at bay.

Your teeth can also hurt if you grind your teeth, especially when you sleep. This often goes if you have anxiety or stress. 

Whatever the reason, grinding your teeth quickly wears down the enamel, increasing tooth sensitivity. The simplest way to stop grinding your teeth is to wear a custom mouthguard fabricated by your dentist.

Are You Drinking Enough Water?

Under normal circumstances, the moisture in your mouth washes away leftover food particles from your teeth. This is one reason why you should be mindful to drink a healthy amount of water daily.

Moreover, the water you drink usually has a safe amount of fluoride to help keep your teeth strong and healthy. But if you don’t drink enough water, you’re missing the fluoride and will have a dry mouth.

Your gums then become dry and will easily develop cuts and lesions. Combine that with the leftover food particles, and you’ll have an environment where bacteria grow and produce acids. The acids then wear down your enamel and increase tooth sensitivity.

Therefore, drink plenty of water to keep your teeth healthy and avoid tooth pain. It’s always a good idea to drink before and after a meal, and make sure to drink more water if you experience dry mouth from medications.

You May Have Receding Gums

Gum recession can expose root surfaces, which consist of fluid-filled microtubes that expand and contract with temperature changes. This can cause tooth sensitivity.

Gum recession is often the result of teeth clenching/grinding or brushing with a hard-bristled brush or an abrasive toothpaste — like charcoal toothpaste — for an extended time.

Instead, use a sensitivity toothpaste — like Sensodyne (on Amazon) — and rinse with a mouthwash that contains fluoride, like this one (on Amazon). Also be sure to floss regularly.

Another reason your gums may recede is that you have gum disease. It’s usually accompanied by symptoms like tooth pain, swollen gums, and bad breath. Your mouth can also have sores, and your gums might bleed as you brush (although this is also a symptom of other dental issues like gingivitis).

You Could Have a Sinus Infection

Tooth pain is not always limited to a dental problem since a sinus infection can also make your teeth and jaws hurt.

A sinus infection happens when fluids have filled your nasal passages (sinuses), encouraging germs to grow there. Your sinuses lie close to the roots of your teeth and will put pressure on their nerve endings whenever they’re swollen and inflamed. 

For this reason, you’ll experience pain in your jaws and the upper teeth in the back of your mouth. Other symptoms of a sinus infection include a stuffy nose and bad breath. It’s also common to feel facial pressure and pain around the nose, eyes, and ears.

You’re Sensitive to Teeth Whitening

Some bleaching agents used in teeth whitening procedures can cause tooth pain, and you may begin to experience tooth sensitivity in a couple of days.

Depending on the previous condition of your teeth, the pain may go away in a few days or last longer. Teeth whitening may also irritate your gums.

Please consult your dentist if you experience a lot of pain while undergoing teeth whitening. They may advise you to stop the treatment or switch to a more gentle whitening product.

At Home Remedies for Tooth Pain

While severe tooth pain calls for immediate medical attention, there are dozens of remedies you can try at home before the pain and discomfort become unbearable. You can find temporary relief for your toothache through the following options:

Do a Cold Compress

Woman heaving tooth ache

Hold a cold compress of ice wrapped in a clean towel to the painful area. Repeat this at 15-minute intervals every few hours. You can also suck gently on ice chips to relieve the pain and swelling.

However, if you feel the need to do a cold or hot compress, you should also see a dentist as soon as possible.

Rinse Your Mouth With Warm Salt Water

Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in half a cup of warm water, then swirl it in your mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out. The action loosens debris between your teeth, and the salt water acts as a disinfectant to reduce inflammation.

Rinse Your Mouth With Hydrogen Peroxide

A 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide (on Amazon) can also help reduce pain and inflammation. You can dilute it with equal parts of water and rinse your mouth thoroughly for 30 seconds. Be sure to spit it out.

Take OTC Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter meds like aspirin and ibuprofen (on Amazon) come in handy to relieve tooth pain and inflammation. You can also take acetaminophen (Tylenol).

If your child complains of tooth pains and they’re under 16, give them Tylenol instead of aspirin. Always be sure to stick to the recommended dosage.

Apply Natural Treatments

You can try the following herbal treatments to provide temporary relief for tooth pain:

  • Clove Oil: Dab a reasonable amount of clove oil (on Amazon) on a cotton pad and carefully apply it to the painful area. Alternatively, add a few drops of the clove oil to 1/4 glass of water and use it to rinse your mouth thoroughly. Clove oil has natural antiseptic properties and will numb the pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Garlic: Crush two cloves of garlic and apply the paste to the painful area. Garlic extract contains antimicrobial allicin, which kills bacteria and alleviates pain.
  • Peppermint Tea: Hold a warm peppermint tea bag against the affected tooth and gum area for 3 to 5 minutes. Peppermint’s soothing properties help relieve the pain.
  • Vanilla Extract: Dab a small amount of vanilla extract on a cotton ball and apply it to the affected tooth and gum area a few times a day. The alcohol in vanilla extract does a remarkable job of numbing the pain temporarily.

When to See a Dentist

A young patient visits the dentist because she has tooth pain

If your teeth suddenly become more sensitive and painful than they were before, it’s best to see your dentist. Dentists may recommend a number of solutions, including everything from sensitivity toothpaste and night guards to more serious procedures like root canals.

An extraction may be necessary if the tooth is cracked or too far gone. In this case, don’t wait until you’re in unbearable pain; try to see your dentist in a timely manner if you’re experiencing any type of ongoing dental/tooth pain.

Remember, proper diagnosis and treatment of dental infections are crucial to prevent them from spreading to other parts of your face and skull.

So, be sure to visit your dentist as soon as possible if:

  • Your toothache continues for more than 48 hours
  • The toothache is severe to the point you can’t move your jaws
  • You develop a fever or pain in the ears
  • Your mouth or face becomes swollen

How to Prevent Tooth Pain in the Future

Preventing tooth pain in the future boils down to proper oral hygiene. Since most toothaches result from tooth decay, stick to good dental hygiene practices like:

  • Brushing twice a day for 2 minutes with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss and brush gently to avoid irritating your gums and wearing down your enamel
  • Take foods and beverages with low sugar and acid content
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Visit your dentist twice a year for professional examination and cleaning

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