My Tooth Hurts: Common Causes of Toothache

“My tooth hurts” is one of the most common complaints that a dentist will hear. Have you recently found yourself thinking the same thing about your own tooth or perhaps a few teeth? Tooth pain is often assumed to be the direct result of tooth decay, or a cavity, and while this is often true, it certainly isn’t the only reason why your tooth may be hurting. Keep reading to learn about a few conditions that may cause a person to grumble the dreaded phrase: my tooth hurts.


If you have never had an abscess before, then this condition is probably not the first explanation to pop up in your mind whenever you mutter “my tooth hurts.” A tooth abscess is a condition in which bacteria enters a weakened spot of the tooth’s enamel, which acts as a strong protective coating. The weakness is usually in the form of a crack, a hole, or decayed area in a tooth. In most cases, the damage to the tooth has to be pretty substantial in order for the bacteria to make its way to the core or pulp of the tooth. Once the pulp becomes infected the nerves start to transmit a signal that the brain interprets as pain, which is its way of letting you know that things are not well with your tooth.

The symptoms of a tooth abscess are swelling of the gums around the tooth, redness, severe tooth and/or gum pain, bad taste in the mouth, bad breath, difficulty chewing due to pain, swollen glands, sensitivity to extreme temperatures such as hot or cold items, general feeling of illness, and fever. An abscess can be treated a few different ways, but the most common form of treatment is an expensive and time-consuming procedure called a root canal. Before this procedure is done the patient must take antibiotics to kill the infection. After the antibiotic medication has been taken the root canal procedure will be done, which involves drilling into the tooth, draining the abscess, and removing the roots of the tooth. The tooth will then be filled and at a later appointment a crown will be fitted to prevent further damage to the tooth.

Tooth Decay and/or Fracture

Tooth decay or a fracture is another common cause behind a toothache. Fractures and decay in the actual tooth as well as chipping, breaking, or loss of fillings can also lead to tooth pain. The actual cause behind the pain is simple: the roots inside the tooth become exposed to plaque, bacteria, and even hot and cold stimuli such as hot foods or a cold drink. The signal that the nerve sends to the brain reflects mild discomfort or pain.

Fractures can occur any number of ways, from biting down on something very hard, eating too many tough or crunchy foods, or even bumping a tooth with something hard such as a glass bottle. As with a cavity, a tooth fracture exposes parts of the nerves and pulp of the tooth to things that lead to irritation and pain. Fractures and cavities can usually be corrected by filling or re-filling the area.

Gum Infection

Another reason why you might say “my tooth hurts” is an infection of the gums. One of the most widespread types of gum infection is called gingivitis. Gingivitis is often caused by poor hygiene or improper execution of hygienic procedures, like brushing your teeth or flossing. Injuries to the gums, such as brushing them too hard, scraping or cutting them, or even chewing foods that are sharp can cause a wound in the soft tissue of the gums which can allow bacteria to enter the area. When bacteria gets inside the gums, or even lodged in an area close to the gums, such as between the teeth, it soon will start to irritate the gums resulting in a slew of symptoms from redness to sensitivity to outright pain. A gum infection could also cause bad breath bleeding gums, especially when brushing your teeth.

A minor gum infection can sometimes remedy itself, during which time you can regain some comfort with the use of anti-inflammatory medications to bring down the swelling and tightness in your gums. You could also try rinsing your mouth out daily with an antiseptic mouthwash. If the infection does not go away after a few days then the next course of action would be to take antibiotics to kill the bacteria responsible for the infection.

Repetitive Stress

If you put your teeth through a lot of recurring stress then the chances are likely that your tooth pain is caused by repetitive movement. For most people this means grinding the teeth or clenching the jaw. Some people do these actions while they are asleep and aren’t even aware that they have a problem. Repetitive stress can be a difficult condition to treat without the help of a dentist, especially if it is a nighttime issue because we can’t really control what we do in our sleep! If you think that you may be dealing with tooth stress then speak to your dentist about the possibility of using a mouth guard or splint while you sleep. These are soft plastic or rubber devices that mould to your teeth and help protect them throughout the night.