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"Toothache" refers to pain in and around the teeth and jaws that's usually caused by tooth decay.
You may feel toothache in many ways. It can be intermittent or constant. Eating or drinking can sometimes trigger the pain or make it worse, especially if the food is very hot or cold.
The pain can also vary in severity. It may feel "sharp" and start suddenly. It can be worse at night, particularly when you're lying down. A lost filling or broken tooth can sometimes start the pain, but it is most commonly caused by tooth decay.
It can often be difficult to locate the pain and patients can find it difficult to tell if the pain is coming from the upper or lower teeth. When a lower molar tooth is affected, the pain can often feel like it's coming from the ear.
Toothache in other upper teeth may manifest as pain from the sinuses (the small, air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead). Conversely sinus inflammation can feel like a tooth problem. If the toothache is being caused by an infection the part of the jaw adjacent to the infected tooth may feel sore or tender to touch. It's also possible for gum disease to give rise to a "dull" pain.
If your toothache persists for more than one or two days, visit your dentist as soon as possible to have it treated. If the problem is left for a long time it can become more difficult to treat.
If your toothache is due to dental decay and is left to progress the pulp inside your tooth will eventually become infected. This can usually lead to a dental abscess, with severe and continuous throbbing pain.
Toothache occurs when the innermost layer of the tooth (dental pulp) becomes inflamed. The pulp is the nerve within a tooth and comprises of sensitive nerve tissue and blood vessels.Dental pulp can become inflamed as a result of :
Babies can also experience discomfort when their teeth start to develop. This is known as teething.
The treatment for toothache will depend heavily on the cause of the problem. Your dentist will take a full history of the problem and examine the area in question. They may also take an x-ray of the area to assess the problem.
If your toothache is caused by tooth decay and the cavity has not breached the pulp your dentist should be able to remove the decay and fill the tooth.
If your toothache is caused by a loose or broken filling, the filling will be taken out, any decay will be removed and a new filling put in place.
If the pulp inside your tooth is infected, you may need root canal treatment. This procedure involves removing the infected pulp and then inserting a special type of filling to seal the tooth and prevent re-infection. You can read more about root canal treatment in the section titled 'Abscess/Swelling/Infection'.
If your toothache can't be successfully treated with these methods, or if your tooth is impacted (wedged between another tooth and your jaw), it may need to be extracted.
Having regular dental check-up's will also reduce the chances of suffering toothache as minor problems can be addressed before they cause pain. The time between check-ups can vary, depending on how healthy your teeth and gums are and your risk of developing future problems. Your dentist will discuss what will be an appropriate interval for your dental check-up's using the general state of your oral health as a guide.
Children should have a dental check-up every six months, so that tooth decay can be spotted and treated early.