What Is Toothache?
Seems like a straightforward answer doesn’t it?, but it’s one of those things where until you actually experience it firsthand for yourself nobody on the planet can ever explain it to you, no description is apt enough to detail the pain of a toothache until you yourself feels the intense shock of electricity permeate your tooth for the first time or the throbbing wave of pain that radiates from your jawbone that won’t let up and for some reason seems to throb in time with your heartbeat. A toothache can make your life a complete misery and it can bring grown men to their knees and until you do something about it it’s nearly impossible to get on with your life. Eating and sleeping are difficult and so your health as a result deteriorates, not to mention the symptoms of the toothache itself could be an indication of more serious problems such as infection. The different types of toothache pain can also be an indicator of different problems which we will cover soon. Technically a toothache is the pain in the tooth or teeth and around the jaw. It can be as described above as acute pain which is the intense, electrical jolt that takes you completely unawares or the more chronic throbbing that tends to linger.
What Causes A Toothache?
There could be several factors at play where the pain of the tooth itself is merely a manifestation of some other underlying issue. You don’t appreciate it at this moment but your teeth are your body’s warning system that something is wrong. This can range from something as simple as hypersensitivity in teeth which cause them to react strongly to hot or cold liquids but with hypersensitivity it can even cause teeth to react strongly to cold drafts or excess dampness or moisture in the air. Over 40 million adults in the US alone (it’s estimated that this proportion applies to the general population) suffer from tooth sensitivity due in part to the poor diet of our day. If you find your teeth becoming increasing reactive to hot and cold liquids and foods then it’s a good chance you have sensitive or hypersensitive teeth. This can also be an after effect of the tooth whitening process as the chemical bleach preparation applied to the teeth is acidic and weakens the protective tooth enamel layer increasing the risk of tooth decay and demineralization. This is why so many people feel that their teeth became noticeably more sensitive and brittle after whitening. Most off the shelf brand tooth whiteners, particularly those contained in toothpaste don’t actually whiten the teeth but actually irritate the gums making them a darker red. This gives the illusion of the teeth being whiter when in actual fact they are not. For tooth sensitivity there are recommended toothpaste brands which can combat the symptoms of hypersensitivity while avoiding things like ice cream and hot drinks is recommended. This type of toothache is usually caused from excess wear on the teeth which can be accelerated by a condition known as “Bruxism”, unconscious tooth grinding. Most people don’t even know they have Bruxism as it tends to occur when the person is asleep. This constant grinding can wear the teeth down which leaves little separation between the dentine and the pulp. Once the dentine is exposed the pulp transmits messages of pain to the nerve hence the reason why dental cavities and cracked, injured teeth exposed to air and microbes are painful and sensitive. Tooth sensitivity also occurs when gum recession takes place, the less protective gum layer covering the dentine and nerves the more teeth start reacting with time toward hot and cold foods and drinks. Other causes of toothache are the more obvious culprits such as a cracked tooth, filling or veneer, dental caries from eating acidic, sweet foods that corrode the fillings and the tooth’s protective enamel layer. This corrosion is caused from the bacteria that are present on the teeth which break down the sugary, refined food you eat and then excrete them in the forms of acids which then eats away at the protective enamel of the tooth causing a cavity, infection and eventually toothache. Toothache can also occur if the root is exposed to air and food or if you have sinus problems, that feeling of excess pressure in your head can manifest symptoms of sore, achy teeth. If you have a cold or the flu or are feeling just generally run down you can feel it in your teeth this is because the ears, nose and throat are all interconnected and impact one another even having a headache or extra tension around the head and facial muscles can create what resembles a toothache but really is a symptom of the tension itself. In this scenario, Tylenol or plain Aspirin would be the best solution for pain relief. Another thing that exacerbates tooth pain is Gingivitis. Gingivitis causes gum line recession as tartar builds around the teeth in the absence of proper brushing and flossing. You can probably spot the early signs of Gingivitis such as red, inflamed, swollen gums that bleed easily when brushed or flossed. Gingivitis starts out harmless enough as regular plaque but when allowed to build and accumulate for longer periods of time hardens into a yellow-brownish calcified cement-like structure which clings to the base of the teeth between the tooth and the gum line and becomes difficult to remove without the aid of a dentist. This hardened tartar must be physically scraped from the teeth. The reason why tartar is such a problem is because when left untouched it pushes the gum line down causing it to recede exposing more tooth (hence the expression “long in the tooth”), in fact it is this that is responsible for the majority of tooth loss in adults rather than the cavities themselves. The leading cause of tooth loss in American adults over the age of 35 is poor gum health (periodontal disease), staggeringly it is estimated that a massive 75% of this group have some form of gum disease and that 60% knew nothing about proper dental care with 39% not attending the dentist regularly. It’s no wonder why people experience tooth loss and tooth related ailments more now than ever before due to poor diet from high sugar, refined foods, stressful lifestyle and the lack of education of proper dental hygiene. We under estimate just how important our gums are because it’s the gums that hold the teeth firmly in place acting as a support anchor to keep teeth in their socket, once tartar takes hold it shrinks the gums causing them to recede and pull back from the teeth, food gets into the little pockets as a result of the gum shrinkage. The lodged food attracts bacteria causing infection deep within the gum line, this in turn eats away at and shrinks the surrounding bone mass which is needed to firmly anchor the tooth. This is what causes the teeth to become loose, if left untreated tooth loss eventually follows. Unless blunt force trauma occurs, tooth loss is a very gradual process over time where intervention can prevent the condition from worsening. While the process of gum shrinkage occurs more and more, your tooth begins to become exposed where gum used to be making those now exposed areas more sensitive to hot and cold. It’s because the more the gum line recedes that the more sensitive the tooth becomes as it gets closer to the tooth root. That is why so many adults are surprised at how sensitive their teeth became with age simply with the recession of their gums. Prevention in this case is the best solution but you can also halt the process with proper brushing, changing your toothbrush every 3-6 months and by only purchasing a medium hardness. Believe it or not using a hard bristle toothbrush has been known to accelerate gum recession as it physically pushes the gums back when brushing with this type of toothbrush. Flossing also helps get rid of the tartar forming plaque that settles below the gum line. Left untreated this contributes to gum disease, abscess and infection. If infection is left too long it can become dangerously toxic to the blood, the treatment to combat the problem would require a course of antibiotics. Regular dentist visits ensures that any tartar build up is removed before it becomes a huge issue for your teeth in the future. It’s such a gradual process that people too often don’t pay attention to it, they put off going to the dentist because their teeth for now feel fine. Its’ not until you’re slapped with a nasty toothache that you realize it wasn’t a problem that happened overnight but gradually accumulated over time. So don’t put off your regular dentist checks because early prevention is the best solution. Despite what you think gum recession doesn’t have to be something that happens with age either, we have the technology to keep our teeth for life so early tooth loss should be a thing of the past. There are technological developments in dentistry where you can actually have gum (soft tissue) grafts to reverse the effects of gum recession to recover previously exposed teeth. This type of surgical procedure is expensive, you must have a certain amount of gum tissue present in order to graft, requires a certain amount of healing time and not everyone is a candidate, for example diabetics area high risk factor and may not be suitable for this type of procedure. The best thing is to take preventative measures as soon as you can, the earlier the better. While tooth loss is traumatic to experience itself, a more serious result of having Gingivitis and tartar build up is that it is a precursor to heart disease. What grows on your teeth indicates the bigger picture of what goes on within the body. If you think about it we really are what we eat and what passes through our lips makes its way through our body. Doctors have proven that if you have a high accumulation and build up of tartar on the teeth then there is a high probability that this same calcified plaque attached to your teeth is also clinging to the walls of your arteries. This represents a bigger problem as this is the type of plaque build that causes high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Angina (enlarged heart) can express itself as a painful jaw or toothache and your situation may be more medical than dental, your dentist may refer you to your doctor to get the appropriate treatment. Sometimes the onslaught of a heart attack can manifest itself as a pain on the left side of the jaw. An aching and tenderness in the jaw hinge or both the jaw and cheekbones and the inside the ears, or the inability to chew properly may indicate the beginnings of the condition TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint disorder). This is where the joint responsible for smooth movement between the between the upper and lower jaws starts to wear making it difficult to eat, talk or yawn and can be very painful, especially after a night of tooth grinding. So as you can see, tooth pain is not all bad, it can help warn us of more serious issues that we can get early detection and treatment of. Symptoms Of Toothache Some of the signs you experience can be symptomatic of other more serious ailments so it can be difficult to give an accurate diagnosis without the assistance of your dentist. These are the general signs of toothache: Sharp, shooting acute pain isolated to the affected area that comes and goes (this could be caused by tooth sensitivity, head tension or stress as well as the tooth possibly being cracked or exposed to air. Dull throbbing chronic pain that lingers for a longer period of time. These are not as common for toothache. If you experience any of the following, please contact an emergency dentist as soon as possible:
1. Are you experiencing fever?
2. Are you finding breathing and swallowing difficult?
3. Is the affected area surrounding the tooth swollen?
4. is your check or jaw the same side as the affected area also swollen and feeling sensitive to the touch (almost like a tingling sensation?)
5. Are your glands swollen under your jaw on the affected tooth’s side? this usually means that the body is fighting an infection which exhibits as fever. Is your tooth too painful to eat, is it affecting your eating or sleeping?
6. Is there a foul smelling, tasting discharge of pus coming from the affected tooth? This could be a sign of abscess infection which when left untreated can end up in the bloodstream. It can also spread to and infect the surrounding bone of the affected tooth.
These are signs of infection. Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of these, because if left untreated can lead to complications. The Different Types Of Toothache Pain And What They Reveal As we touched upon before, different types of tooth related pain can be an indicator of different problems. Sharp, shooting pain: Can indicate tooth sensitivity or hypersensitivity due to wear and tear and demineralization of tooth enamel from brushing (especially with a hard bristle brush), gum recession where the root is being exposed to more air than usual, decaying dental cavity, cracked tooth or abscess. Chronic, lingering pain: Suffering from this type of toothache could be the result of nerve damage from grinding the teeth, advanced tooth decay which has penetrated and damaged the nerve, trauma to the affected area through injury. Pain or discomfort while eating: Usually arises from tooth decay or a cracked tooth.
Severe throbbing pain: Along with a swollen face or lymph nodes, swelling under the jaw of the affected side is usually an indicator of infection from an abscess. Pain to the back of the jaw: Particularly where the molars are situated may be due to impacted wisdom teeth where the teeth on some occasions only partially come through or remain below the surface of the gum line causing pain whenever applying pressure through biting. It’s a pain similar to a baby teething only with the added tension of the teeth not able to cut through the gum. This type of pain could also indicate TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint disorder) or Bruxism (tooth grinding), which can express pain in the jaw and in the facial bones such as the cheekbones and the boney structure within the outer ear canals. You can feel this structure where the hinge is located linking the upper and lower jaws by simply inserting your index finger into your ear while chewing at the same time, that movement you experience is the Temporomandibular joint. This type of movement causes joint friction and discomfort for sufferers of TMJ. Whatever the cause, your toothache could represent other problems. It’s best to get this checked out by your dental professional while you treat the immediate pain now.