A toothache can ruin life’s simplest pleasures, like drinking iced coffee or enjoying gelato after dinner. Usually such aches are a sign you need a filling since tooth pain is typically caused by cavities, explains Dr. Michael Ray, DDS, MPH at Oral Surgery Associates of North Texas.
But sometimes, toothaches are a sign of other conditions, Ray says. Here are four other reasons you may have oral pain:
Why your teeth hurt: fractures
Intermittent pain when chewing could be the result of cracked or chipped teeth.
“Fractures in teeth, though possibly not seen with the naked eye, can cause significant pain,” says Ray.
Determining whether pain is due to fractures is tricky since cracks may be too small to detect. However, pain that’s occurs only when eating may be a clue, according to the American Academy of Endodontists.
Chewing on ice, grinding teeth, and nibbling on pen caps can increase the risk of fractures, but there’s no sure-fire way to avoid cracks.
“Sometimes, it’s just a bit of bad luck,” says Ray.
Why your teeth hurt: sensitivity
If sipping tea or eating ice cream causes discomfort, then you may have a case of sensitivity. This happens when the root is exposed due to minor tooth decay, loose fillings or receding gums, according to the American Association of Endodontists.
Talk to your dentist about the problem, and switch to a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. Switch to a soft brush head and avoid vigorous brushing.
Why your teeth hurt: oral infections
Sometimes pain is caused by overlooked cavities that have developed into acute infections, says Ray. This happens when a cavity extends into the nerve of the tooth. Signs of an infection include swelling and pussy discharge. If you suspect cavities, go to the dentist before it gets to this point.
Why your teeth hurt: sinus infections
You floss regularly, never have cavities, and don’t have a history of sensitivity, but suddenly your teeth hurt. What gives?
The problem could be tied to a case of the sniffles. Sinus infections can cause tooth pain, particularly in the back of your mouth.
“The tips of the teeth are living beings with nerves in them,” says Ray. “Proximity wise they’re [teeth] very close to a sinus.”
The nerve branches in your teeth share the same path as the sinuses, which mean pain in one can cause pain in the other.
Why your teeth hurt: autoimmune disorders
Although rare, certain diseases may impact your oral health, says Ray. Specifically, lichen planus, pemphigus vulgaris, and pemphigoid, three conditions that cause blisters or rashes on the skin and mucous membranes, may contribute to oral pain.
“Often times they’re painful because they cause the gums and the lining of the teeth to slough away,” says Ray.
Of course, sometimes your teeth hurt for simple reasons, like food trapped between your teeth. Ray recommends seeing your doctor if pain lasts more than two to three days or keeps you awake at night.
If you’re unmotivated to schedule that appointment, heed Ray’s advice: “The treatment that you’ll need or get will be more extensive or painful [if you wait].”
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