Guide to Tooth Pain

Tooth Pain

You woke up this morning, it looked like a great day, and then you had your cup of coffee. That’s when you experienced a sharp pain in one of your teeth. Now you might be asking what is going on, what do I need to do and who do I need to see? Hopefully this guide will answer your questions and guide you to what needs to be done.

Symptom: Short (less than 5-7 seconds) sensitivity (pain) to hot or cold foods.

Possible Cause: With it only lasting a few seconds it does not indicate a serious problem. It could be the result of a loose or defective filling or a small amount of gum recession.

Treatment: See your restorative dentist to have the area evaluated to see if a new restoration is needed. If it is recession there are various toothpastes made for this problem. If this does not work, there are certain procedures your dentist can do to reduce the sensitivity.


Symptom: A tooth (or teeth) became sensitive to hot and cold after a dental appointment.

Possible Cause: Placing new restoration(s) may irritate or inflame the pulp tissue.

Treatment: This may take several weeks to resolve. If the pain persists or becomes worse you should see your restorative dentist.


Symptom: You have a sharp pain when you bite on food.

Possible Cause: Several problems can cause this. You may have decay or a cavity, a loose filling, a crack in the tooth, or the start of an abscess. This may also be caused with periodontal (gum) disease.

Treatment: You should have your restorative dentist evaluate the problem. They may refer you to an endodontist for further evaluation and possible treatment such as a root canal.


Symptom: Lingering pain after hot or cold goes into an area.

Possible Cause: This usually means the pulp has been damaged and cannot heal itself. This could be the result of deep decay, new restorations or physical trauma.

Treatment: In order to keep the tooth, root canal treatment is necessary. If you have seen an endodontist in the past, you should contact them. If not, you should contact your restorative dentist to refer you to one.


Symptom: Swelling of the gum with a constant, severe pain or pressure. The tooth may also be sore to biting pressure.

Possible Cause: The tooth most likely has developed an abscess. This happens when the nerve tissue has died within the tooth. The bone and surrounding gum are infected. This may also happen if you have periodontal (gum) disease.

Treatment: In order to keep the tooth root canal treatment is necessary. You should see your endodontist as soon as possible to start relieving the pain. You may need to be placed on an antibiotic. Using an over-the-counter pain medication such as Advil or Motrin may help you manage the pain until you are seen.


Symptom: A dull ache or pressure associated with the upper teeth and jaw.

Possible Cause: A sinus headache can cause pain that is associated with the upper teeth and mid-face. The grinding of your teeth, also called bruxism, may also cause this.

Treatment: Consult with your restorative dentist or your endodontist. If it is a sinus headache you may be placed on an antibiotic and a sinus decongestant. If it is bruxism your restorative dentist may need to make a night guard for you to wear at night. You may also be referred to a physician for an evaluation.


Symptom: A chronic pain in the head, neck or ear.

Possible Cause: Sometimes damaged pulpal tissue can refer pain to areas distant from the tooth causing the problem. This can also be caused by TMJ problems and neuralgias. There are other medical problems which may also cause these symptoms.

Treatment: Your endodontist can evaluate this. If a tooth is causing the problem, a root canal treatment can be completed. If it is not a tooth causing the problem they can refer you to another dental specialist or a physician for evaluation and appropriate treatment.

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