Most of us have experienced some kind of tooth pain at some point in our lives. Your teeth and gums are surprisingly complex structures, and they can become damaged in many ways. Many people are surprised to learn that many parts of your teeth are alive, and they can become damaged and infected in similar ways as many other parts of your body. If you’re wondering why your tooth hurts, it might be one of these causes of tooth pain.
Why Does My Tooth Hurt? 4 Common Causes of Tooth Pain
1. Untreated Tooth Decay
According to the CDC, approximately 30% of American adults have untreated dental cavities caused by tooth decay. This makes untreated tooth decay one of the most common causes of tooth pain. If you’re wondering why your teeth hurt and you haven’t visited the dentist in a few years, this may be the cause.
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria turn the sugars and starches we eat into plaque, a sticky substance that erodes teeth. This plaque then creates small holes in tooth enamel. Since tooth enamel is not a living tissue, you won’t feel these small holes when they start. However, as they get deeper, they’ll affect the tooth pulp, the living tissue that keeps your teeth healthy. If tooth decay isn’t treated, it can create a tooth infection. This can cause much more intense pain, serious health problems, and can result in tooth loss.
2. Teeth Grinding
If you notice tension and pain in your jaw, neck or head, especially when you wake up in the morning, you may be grinding your teeth at night. This condition, called bruxism, can damage your teeth and cause tooth pain over time.
Your jaw muscle (masseter) is the strongest muscle in your body relative to weight; it can exert up to 200 lbs of force on your teeth. This force and friction causes your muscles to strain, causing pain in your jaw, head and neck. The pressure on your teeth also wears down your tooth enamel and can even cause your teeth to crack or chip.
Using a mouth guard for teeth grinding can soften this pressure and help to protect your teeth. Bruxism is usually caused by stress, so identifying areas of stress in your life can help to prevent teeth grinding. Trying stress-reducing practices like meditation, talk therapy, or mindful journaling before bed may also help.
3. Cracked Tooth
If your tooth suffers even a small crack, it can become very painful very quickly. You may notice sharp, stabbing pains in this case.
A cracked tooth is a cause of tooth pain because it exposes the sensitive inner structures of your teeth. As previously mentioned, these tissues under the tooth enamel are alive, and they contain blood vessels and nerve endings like other tissues. When a tooth is damaged, it sends pain signals back to the brain in similar ways as other damaged tissues.
A cracked tooth can occur when a tooth is weakened by decay (see the first point, above). Or, an impact or accident can over-stress the tooth, causing it to crack. However the crack in your tooth occured, whether it is a small or large crack, it’s important to see a dentist right away. Otherwise, your tooth will begin to hurt worse and the damage will worsen.
4. Sinus Infection
If you’re feeling a consistent, steady pain or feeling of pressure in your upper jaw, this may be a sign of a sinus infection. Though your sinuses aren’t technically a part of your teeth or gums, these two areas are close neighbors, and one can affect the other if they’re not healthy.
Your sinuses are hollow cavities in your skull. Your largest sinuses, the maxillary sinuses, are connected to your nasal passages, though you have several different sinus cavities throughout your skull. The maxillary sinuses are behind your cheekbones, and they rest just above your teeth roots. A sinus infection causes the sinuses to fill with fluid and bacteria, and inflame the area. This inflammation can spread and cause pain to extend to your teeth, teeth roots, and gums.
Your body may be able to fight off a sinus infection on its own. However, if a sinus infection persists for longer than 10 days, you should see a doctor.
These are some of the most common causes of tooth pain, though there are many other issues that can cause your teeth to hurt. If you’re experiencing tooth pain, try to make a note of when it occurs, how often, and how severe it is. When you visit your dentist, this will help them accurately diagnose and treat you.