Toothaches: Causes, Remedy, Treatments, and Prevention

Everything You Need to Know About Toothaches


A toothache can be caused by anything from a popcorn hull stuck in your gum to a broken tooth or a bacterial infection. Some toothaches may come from temporary gum irritation. But serious toothaches need treatment by a dental professional to resolve the pain and whatever problem is causing it.

Article Index


What is a toothache?

A toothache is a pain in or around a tooth. Minor toothaches can come from a temporary gum irritation you can treat at home. More serious toothaches are caused by dental and mouth problems that won’t get better on their own and will need to be treated by a dentist.

Why is my toothache so painful?

The pulp inside your tooth is a soft material filled with nerves, tissues, and blood vessels. These pulp nerves are among the most sensitive in your body. When irritated or infected by bacteria (abscess), these nerves can cause severe pain. [1]

Signs, Symptoms, and Causes

What Are The Possible Causes of Toothache?

Toothaches can be caused by:

What Do Toothaches Feel Like?

You may feel:

  • throbbing pain or swelling in or around your tooth or gum

  • fever

  • sharp pain when you touch your tooth or bite down

  • tenderness and achiness in or around your tooth

  • painful sensitivity in your tooth in response to hot or cold foods and drinks

  • burning or shock-like pain, which is uncommon [3]

Diagnosis and Tests

What happens when I go to the dentist’s office for my toothache?

Temporary, homemade pain relief won’t be enough if your toothache progresses. Call your dental professional when it becomes clear that the problem in your mouth is getting worse despite your best efforts.


At the office, your dental team will review your medical history. You’ll be asked questions like:

  • Where is the pain located?

  • When did it start?

  • How severe is it?

  • What makes the pain worse, and what gives you relief?


The dental team will also do a physical exam. They’ll check your mouth, teeth, gums, jaws, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose, and neck. You’ll probably get X-rays of your mouth taken to help show the cause of your toothache. [4]

Management and Treatment

Dental treatment

Most people go to a dentist for a toothache since problems with your teeth cause most toothaches.


Your dentist will use X-rays and a physical exam of your teeth to detect tooth decay or other dental problems. And they may give you pain medication and antibiotics to treat an infection.


If your toothache is due to tooth decay, your dentist will remove the decay with a drill and fill the space with dental materials. An impacted tooth may require surgical removal.


If your dentist can’t find the cause of your toothache, they may refer you to a doctor for further diagnosis and treatment.

Sinusitis treatment

Your doctor may treat sinusitis with antibiotics or decongestant medications. In rare cases, you may need surgery to open your nasal passages. In this case, your doctor will refer you to a specialist. 

Home Treatment

Things that may help temporarily relieve your tooth pain include:


  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, such as aspirin

  • OTC topical dental pain medication, such as benzocaine (Anbesol, Orajel)

  • OTC decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), if your pain is due to sinus congestion

  • clove oil applied to your aching tooth


Check with your doctor or dentist before using any product with benzocaine. Children under two shouldn’t use any products containing benzocaine. [5]


How Can Toothaches Be Prevented?

Since most toothaches result from tooth decay, good oral hygiene practices can prevent toothaches. Good oral hygiene consists of brushing regularly with fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing once daily, rinsing once or twice a day with an antiseptic mouthwash, and seeing your dentist every 6 months for a professional cleaning. In addition to these practices, eat foods low in sugar and ask your dentist about sealants and fluoride applications. [6]

Outlook – Prognosis

Can a toothache make me sick or even be fatal?

A toothache itself isn’t fatal. However, an untreated infection in your tooth (or any other body part) can spread. You can become sick, and this illness could turn into something serious or even life-threatening. So if your toothache isn’t improving, contacting your dentist is a good idea.

Living With

When should I call a doctor?

Call your dentist immediately if you have any of the following with a toothache:


  • Pain that persists for more than a day or two

  • Fever

  • Signs and symptoms of infection, such as swelling, pain when you bite, red gums, or a foul-tasting discharge

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing [7]

References & Resources [1] [2] [4] [7] [6] [3] [5]

Dr. Ebad Habeeb