Ouch! Common Causes of Toothache Pain

Toothaches are more than minor inconveniences. They prevent us from eating peanut brittle, biting into jawbreakers and chewing on gravel—though you shouldn’t do either of those last two things anyway.

Much like headaches and stomach aches, however, toothaches have a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect them and finding out what caused them can be a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

Fortunately, we’ve narrowed down the field of suspects to only the most common causes of toothache pain.

Tooth Decay

Among the most common causes of painful—and painfully annoying—toothaches are also one of the most preventable oral health problems… tooth decay. According to the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), 96% of adults have or have had a cavity at some point in their life.

Dental cavities don’t cause tooth pain right out of the gate—or the mouth, as it were—but, as they worsen, they can expose nerve endings and soft tissue. More so than other dental care problems, cavities make your teeth more sensitive to hot and cold foods and beverages.

That’s why regular dental checkups are so important. Your dentist will keep an eye out for tooth decay and treat it before it becomes a problem so that you can sip your coffee and smoothie at the same time without wincing—if you can stomach that odd combination.

Maintaining good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth and flossing twice daily is the surest way to reduce your chances of developing dental caries and a toothache bad enough to make you want to go on a hunger strike.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding—or bruxism, as most dentists and dental care professionals would call it—is a common culprit for toothaches and a bad night’s sleep.

According to the Canadian Dental Association (CDA), most children and adults who have bruxism don’t know that they have it as it occurs at night during the sleep cycle. Additionally, for most people, bruxism is a transient condition with unknown triggers, meaning that you can be sleeping peacefully one night and grinding your teeth into nubs the next and no one can tell you why.

But we do know one thing: teeth grinding causes toothaches, headaches and jaw pain. Bruxism erodes the protective enamel coating on your teeth and exposes the sensitive soft tissue layers beneath. Severe or prolonged bruxism can even lead to chipped, cracked or broken teeth and cause malformations of the facial musculature.


There’s a reason that babies cry when they begin to teethe—it hurts, it hurts a lot. Though adults won’t experience as much teething as babies and children, wisdom teeth—the last set of teeth to erupt—don’t come in until adulthood.

Though most people won’t need a wisdom tooth extraction, some people may experience an impacted wisdom tooth if there isn’t sufficient space at the back of their mouth for it grow.

Toothaches caused by teething are usually accompanied by red and swollen gums, itchy gums, irritability and unusual chewing habits.

Tooth Extraction or Dental Treatment

People usually want to leave their dentist’s office with a bigger, brighter and better smile—and maybe a lollipop or two—but that isn’t always possible.

Certain oral and dental treatments and procedures such as root canals and tooth extractions can leave patients with a grimace instead of a grin. Before any procedure, your dentist should inform you about any potential side effects, including pain, that you may experience during your recovery period.

Toothaches and pain from dental treatments should only last a short while during your recovery. Depending on the severity, your dentist may prescribe a pain medication for a limited time. However, if symptoms persist, call your dentist.

Abscessed Tooth

A dental abscess refers to a localized bacterial infection inside the tooth—and it is every bit as painful as it sounds. Abscesses can have any number of causes, from tooth decay and gum disease to chipped, cracked or damaged teeth that later became infected.

Unfortunately, there are no dentist-approved home remedies for dental abscesses—a rigorous warm salt water rinse may provide some temporary pain relief but it’s not a cure. More often than not, your dentist will have to treat the abscess with a root canal or tooth extraction, depending on the extent of the infection.

Damaged or Broken Tooth

Trauma to the face, mouth, teeth or gums can cause a dull aching sensation. For minor oral injuries, home remedies such as over-the-counter pain medications and ice packs can provide much-needed pain relief but more serious injuries require the attention of a dentist.

As we mentioned, chipped, cracked or damaged teeth can lead to dental abscesses and other serious threats to your oral health. Small fissures in the teeth following trauma aren’t always visible to the naked eye so it’s important to visit your dentist following an incident.

Make sure that your dentist offers emergency care services in the event that your perfectly pearlescent smile suffers an unexpected injury.

Other Causes

Not all causes of toothache pain originate in the mouth. Sinus infections, headaches, migraines, jaw, head and skull injuries, tension in the neck and even heart attacks can cause tooth pain.

Contact Dawson Dental

Solving the mystery of The Tender Toothache needn’t require the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes—just the dentistry skills of our team at Dawson Dental. If your tooth is still throbbing like it’s trying to escape your mouth, give us a call and book your appointment or virtual consultation.