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What Causes a Toothache?

8 Common Causes of Toothaches and What You Can Do
Read Time: 7 Minutes | Jun 3, 2019

What Causes a Toothache?

8 Common Causes of Toothaches and What You Can Do
Read Time: 7 Minutes | Jun 3, 2019
What Causes a Toothache?

Having a toothache can be worrying. It can be hard to tell whether it’s caused by something minor or if you’ll be facing a major issue the next time you visit the dentist. So what can cause a toothache and how can you tell what you should do about it?

Causes of a Toothache

There are many different potential causes of a toothache, from minor to major. Some can be easily addressed at home or will pass quickly. Others necessitate a visit to the dentist to take care of.


Also known as tooth decay, cavities are permanent damage to your teeth. They are holes in the hard surface of the tooth and can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacteria, poor oral hygiene, or sugary drinks and snacks.

They most commonly occur for older adults, teenagers, and children, but can happen to anyone at any time. Cavities are the most frequent


The symptoms of a cavity include toothache, but also tooth sensitivity, holes visible in the teeth, and dark spots on the teeth. Cavity-related toothaches can be spontaneous pain, pain when biting down on something, and pain (ranging from mild to sharp) when consuming something sweet, hot or cold.

Gum Disease

Gum disease comes in two forms: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the more mild form, while periodontitis is a serious infection. Gingivitis can cause gum tenderness, but periodontitis is usually the underlying cause of more serious pain.


Symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Bad breath
  • Gums that easily bleed
  • Discolored gums
  • Tender gums
  • Receding gums
  • Swollen gums

The symptoms of periodontitis include all of those listed for gingivitis, plus:

  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • New spaces between teeth
  • Pus between the teeth and the gums

Food in Teeth

Having food stuck between your teeth can cause them to ache and feel tender. Flossing regularly can help prevent this from happening. If you have a toothache that you suspect is caused by this (especially if there are specific spots within your mouth that tend to regularly attract food), floss your teeth. If it was indeed caused by food caught between your teeth, the tenderness and pain should fade within a day.

Grinding Teeth

Teeth grinding or clenching happens occasionally to everyone. Bruxism, which is another name for teeth grinding, is only a problem when it occurs regularly. Grinding teeth can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, caffeine, and a wide variety of other things. If you suspect that you’re grinding your teeth, visit the dentist and ask your partner to watch for it.


Regular teeth grinding can cause pain in both the teeth and the jaw. Other symptoms to look out for are a headache, earache, facial pain, disrupted sleep, broken fillings or teeth, and worn-down teeth.


A tooth abscess occurs when a bacterial infection causes a pocket of pus to form. They can occur anywhere around the tooth for a plethora of reasons. A periapical abscess is located at the root of the tooth and is usually caused by a cavity that has gone untreated, previous dental work, or an injury.


The symptoms of a tooth abscess include severe, throbbing pain that can spread from the jaw all the way to the ear, fever, swelling in the face, sensitivity to heat, cold, chewing, and biting, difficulty swallowing or even breathing, and lymph nodes that are tender and swollen. If the abscess ruptures, the pain would be relieved, followed by a rush of salty fluid that both tastes and smells foul.


Injuries can occur as the result of any kind of trauma to the face, whether from an accident or from a sports injury. The most common injury is a chipped tooth, which is relatively minor. More traumatic injuries can cause teeth to be dislodged or even knocked out. A tooth that is damaged by a physical injury can ache. If a toothache caused by an injury isn’t dealt with, the tooth could need to be removed, so it’s important to visit the dentist and, if necessary, the endodontist as soon as possible after an injury.

Sinus Infection

A sinus infection, also known as sinusitis or sinus inflammation, causes the sinuses to swell, which can put pressure on the teeth. The teeth that are most commonly affected by a sinus infection are the back teeth since they’re located the closest to the sinuses. Visiting the doctor and treating the sinus infection will relieve the pressure on the teeth and fix the toothache.


Shingles is a virus that affects the roots of the nerves. It usually affects the nerve endings in the skin, but can also cause tooth pain.

How Can I Treat a Toothache?

Determine the Cause

The most important step in treating a toothache is determining its cause. The treatments for toothache vary. Without knowing the root cause, it’s impossible to do more than mask the symptoms. Paying attention to exactly where and how the tooth hurts can help you determine what the cause is. Ask yourself what other health issues you may have that could cause a toothache.



Regardless of whether the cause of the toothache is, flossing can be a good idea. Flossing is essential to overall dental health and poor oral hygiene can contribute to a toothache. Preventative flossing can help stop toothaches caused by food in the teeth, cavities, or gum disease before it even starts.

Over-the-Counter Painkillers

Addressing the underlying cause of the toothache doesn’t always help immediately with the ache itself. Over-the-counter painkillers can take the edge off the pain while you’re waiting for the root cause to heal.

Rinse with Warm Salt Water

Using salt water to improve oral health is an ancient practice. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks used it to prevent oral inflammation and it’s never fallen out of practice. And for good reason! It really works.

Saltwater inhibits bacteria in the mouth. It’s not only anti-inflammatory but also prevents infection. Even if you already have an infection or inflammation in your mouth, rinsing with warm salt water can help prevent its spread. Bacteria thrive in acidic environments and the salt changes the mouth’s pH level to alkaline, making it difficult for bacteria to live and breed.

The optimal saltwater solution is ½ a teaspoon stirred into a glass of warm water.

Cold Compress

If the toothache is caused by injury, a cold compress can help ease pain and swelling at the location of the injury. This is only effective for physical injuries, however.

Woman at a dentist office

Visit the Dentist

Visiting the dentist can help you determine the cause of your toothache. Many toothaches, especially those caused by cavities, gum disease, tooth trauma, tooth abscess, and bruxism require a dentist to address. If you have a sinus infection or shingles and the toothache goes away as you get better, then a dentist visit isn’t necessary. If it doesn’t ease with the illness, however, then you’ll want to visit your dentist to find out if there isn’t something else causing your toothache.

What Are Natural Remedies for a Toothache?

There are many natural remedies for toothaches. They can be combined with pain medication or other treatments recommended by a doctor or dentist. You may already have many of them at home!


Peel a clove of garlic and salt it using rock salt. Both garlic and salt can help inhibit bacteria and ease the pain. You can chew it if you feel up to it, but simply pressing the salted garlic against the sore spot can help a lot.

Peppermint tea image

Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea has numbing capabilities. The menthol in peppermint is what numbs and is also antibacterial. You can either make a cup of peppermint tea and then rinse your mouth with it (swallowing or spitting it out is up to you) or you can press the wet tea bag directly against the sore tooth.

Salt Water

Saltwater rinsing has been known to prevent inflammation and infection of the teeth for thousands of years. Rinse with a mixture of warm water and a ½ teaspoon of salt.


Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of putting a needle at specific pressure points, it simply puts pressure on those specific points. To do acupressure, carefully massage the appropriate pressure points. To relieve toothache, these points are usually on the cheekbones, shoulders, and neck.


Ice can help numb the pain and reduce and swelling. Place a cold compress or ice on the cheek where the toothaches.

Clove Oil

Clove oil has numbing properties and can help with the pain of a toothache. Dab some onto a cotton swab and then use that to rub the oil onto the aching tooth. Note that clove oil does have a strong smell and taste. It’s important to use it sparingly and in small quantities.

How Can I Prevent a Toothache?

The best medicine for a toothache is prevention. While some may be unavoidable, such as those caused by illness or injury, others can be prevented simply by taking good care of yourself.

Proper Oral Hygiene

Make sure you brush your teeth twice daily. Avoid foods and drinks with too much sugar in them. Avoiding cavities is a good way to prevent toothaches.


Flossing regularly prevents food that is trapped between your teeth from causing cavities and sore gums. It’s also an essential part of general oral hygiene.

Visit the Dentist Regularly

Visiting the dentist regularly is important not just for addressing any issues that may come up with your teeth but also just to keep them clean. If you need to change any brushing or eating habits to improve your oral health, the dentist can tell you. In addition, there is some cleaning that can only be done by the dentist. Tartar builds up on the teeth and is difficult to remove yourself without the help of the dentist’s specialized tools.

No amount of brushing and flossing at home can replace seeing the dentist for regular thorough cleanings.