A toothache is pain that is felt in the mouth or jaw from a problem with one or more teeth or the gums. Sensitivity or pain typically moves along the nerves in the center of the tooth, known as the pulp.

A toothache may be caused by:

  • Dental decay. Bacteria and other organisms, often present in plaque that forms on the teeth, can result in tooth decay. Pain from decay may not develop until the late stages.
  • Infection around the tooth.
  • An impacted tooth. A tooth that does not break through the skin can cause pain and gum inflammation.
  • Gum disease. Receding gums or unhealthy gums can lead to pain in and around the teeth.
  • An injury to the pulp. Extreme sensitivity to temperatures or sweet or sour tastes can occur when the pulp has been injured or exposed by wear or the loss of a filling.

Although it is not as common, a toothache can be caused by a problem not related to the teeth, such as a sinus infection, shingles, or cluster headaches.

A toothache should be evaluated by a dentist right away to determine the cause of the problem and prevent the tooth from dying.

Last Updated: September 26, 2008

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Steven K. Patterson, BSc, DDS, MPH - Dentist

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