What Causes Toothache? Relief & Remedies

Feb 27, 2024

Suffering from a toothache? This guide explores the causes of tooth pain, from cavities to gum disease, and offers solutions for both immediate relief and long-term prevention. Learn about at-home remedies and the importance of professional dental care to keep your smile healthy. Visit Ageless Smiles Dental Centre for expert assistance.

What Causes Toothache?

At the core of every toothache is an underlying cause, often means bigger issues within our oral ecosystem. Cavities and gum disease are the most frequent culprits, each stemming from distinct processes within the mouth that ultimately lead to discomfort and pain. 

Get to know the causes of toothache and how to prevent it by ensuring the maintenance of your oral health.


Cavities, also known as dental caries, result from the process of tooth decay. This process begins when the sugars and starches in food interact with bacteria present in dental plaque, producing acids that attack the tooth’s enamel. Over time, these acids can break down the enamel, creating holes or cavities.

How Cavities Lead to Tooth Pain

Initially, a cavity may not cause any symptoms. However, as the decay extends beyond the enamel into the dentin, it gets closer to the dental pulp, where the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels reside. Once the decay reaches the nerve, it can result in sharp pain, especially when eating or drinking hot, cold, or sweet foods. In advanced stages, decay can lead to a dental abscess, causing persistent, throbbing pain and sensitivity.

Gum Disease

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, begins with the inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. It’s caused by the plaque build-up along and under the gum line. If left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, affecting the bone that supports the teeth.

Stages of Gum Disease and Their Symptoms

Gingivitis: The earliest stage, characterised by red, swollen gums that may bleed easily. At this stage, discomfort is minimal, and damage can be reversed with professional treatment and good oral hygiene.

Periodontitis: Advanced gum disease where the gums pull away from the teeth, forming pockets that become infected. The body’s immune response to the infection, combined with bacterial toxins, starts breaking down the bone and connective tissue. This can lead to teeth becoming loose, misaligned, or overly sensitive, culminating in toothache.

Understanding the progression and impact of both cavities and gum disease underscores the importance of regular dental check-ups and adherence to a robust oral hygiene regimen. Early detection and intervention are key to preventing these conditions from escalating into a painful toothache.

How Do I Identify Toothache?

Identifying a toothache involves recognising specific signs of tooth pain, which can vary from a mild discomfort to a severe, throbbing ache. 

Types of Toothache and Their Implications

Type of Toothache Symptoms Potential Underlying Causes
Sharp, Intermittent Pain Pain when biting down or eating; sudden, sharp pain that quickly subsides. Cavity, minor crack in the tooth, loose filling.
Constant, Throbbing Pain Persistent ache that does not subside over time; may intensify without direct stimulus. Abscess, infection, severe decay, gum disease.
Sensitivity to Temperature Sharp pain in response to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli; pain subsides when stimulus is removed. Exposed tooth root, early-stage cavity, worn enamel.
Pain with Pressure Discomfort or pain when chewing or applying pressure to the tooth. Cracked tooth syndrome, advanced cavity, dental abscess.
Radiating Pain Pain that spreads to the jaw, ear, or neck. Abscess, impacted teeth, TMJ disorders.

Understanding the types of toothache and their implications is crucial for identifying the underlying cause of dental discomfort. Differentiating between these types helps in communicating effectively with dental professionals and facilitates targeted treatment, significantly impacting the course of dental health.

When at home pain relief doesn’t work, it may be indication of something bigger happening, and you should seek dental assistance sooner rather than later. 

Can Toothache Be Treated at Home?

While urgent professional dental care is critical for addressing the root cause of toothache, home remedies and over-the-counter pain relief options can temporarily alleviate discomfort.

Home Remedies for Temporary Relief

Home Remedy Instructions Notes
Warm Salt Water Rinse Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and swish around the mouth for 30 seconds. Helps reduce inflammation and kill bacteria. Do not swallow.
Cold Compress Apply a cold pack or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel to the outside of your cheek for 20 minutes. Reduces swelling and numbs the area. Do not apply ice directly to your skin.
Clove Oil Apply a small amount of clove oil to a cotton ball and dab onto the affected tooth and surrounding gum area. Natural analgesic properties. Use sparingly as it can be potent.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

Pain Reliever Active Ingredients Usage Warnings
NSAIDs (e.g., Ibuprofen) Ibuprofen Do not exceed the recommended dosage. May cause stomach upset. Avoid if you have kidney problems.
Acetaminophen Acetaminophen Follow the package instructions for dosage. Do not exceed the recommended amount to avoid liver damage.
Oral Anaesthetic Gels Benzocaine Apply directly to the tooth and gum to numb the area. Do not use for more than 7 days in a row.

How to Prevent Toothache?

Preventing toothache centres around maintaining optimal oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups. 

Daily brushing and flossing are foundational practices that remove plaque and prevent the build-up of bacteria that can lead to cavities and gum disease. Incorporating fluoride toothpaste and antiseptic mouthwash further strengthens teeth and combats harmful bacteria. 

Equally important is adhering to a balanced diet, limiting sugary and acidic foods that can erode tooth enamel. Regular visits to the dentist for professional cleanings and examinations allow for early detection and treatment of potential dental issues before they escalate into painful conditions. 

FAQs About Causes of Toothache

What immediate actions can relieve toothache?

First steps to take when you experience tooth pain include rinsing your mouth with warm salt water to reduce inflammation and applying a cold compress to the outside of your cheek to alleviate swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also offer temporary relief. However, these measures are not substitutes for professional dental care if the pain persists.

How often should I visit the dentist to prevent toothache?

Recommended dental check-up frequency for preventing tooth pain is at least once every six months. Regular visits allow your dentist to perform professional cleanings, identify and treat potential issues early, and provide guidance on personalised oral hygiene practices to maintain optimal dental health.

Are there specific foods that can cause or worsen toothache?

Understanding the impact of diet on tooth pain and dental health is crucial. Sugary and acidic foods can contribute to tooth decay and gum disease, potentially leading to toothache. Limiting consumption of these foods and maintaining a balanced diet can help protect your teeth and gums from damage and discomfort.