The Cleveland Clinic

Toothache

A toothache is a pain in or around a tooth that may be caused by:
  • Tooth decay
  • Abscessed tooth
  • Tooth fracture
  • A damaged filling
  • Repetitive motions, such as chewing gum or grinding teeth
  • Infected gums

Symptoms may include:

  • Tooth pain that may be sharp, throbbing, or constant. In some people, pain results only when pressure is applied to the tooth.
  • Swelling around the tooth
  • Fever or headache
  • Foul-tasting drainage from the infected tooth

When Should I See a Dentist?

See your dentist as soon as possible if:

  • You have a toothache that lasts longer than 1 or 2 days
  • Your toothache is severe
  • You have a fever, earache, or pain upon opening your mouth wide

Proper identification and treatment of dental infections is important to prevent its spread to other parts of the face and skull and possibly even to the bloodstream.

What Happens During the Dental Appointment?

Your dentist will obtain your medical history and conduct a physical exam. He or she will ask you questions about the pain, such as when the pain started, how severe it is, where the pain is located, what makes the pain worse, and what makes it better. Your dentist will examine your mouth, teeth, gums, jaws, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose, and neck. X-rays may be taken as well as other tests, depending on what your dentist suspects as the cause of your toothache.

What Treatments Are Available?

Treatment depends on the cause of your toothache. If a cavity is causing the toothache, your dentist will fill the cavity or possibly extract the tooth, if necessary. A root canal might need to be performed if the cause of the toothache is determined to be an infection of the tooth's nerve. Bacteria that have worked their way into the inner aspects of the tooth cause such an infection. An antibiotic may be prescribed if there is fever or swelling of the jaw.

How Can Toothaches Be Prevented?

Since most toothaches are the result of tooth decay, following good oral hygiene practices can prevent toothaches. Good oral hygiene practices consist of brushing regularly with a fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing once daily, and seeing your dentist twice a year for professional cleaning. In addition to these practices, eat foods low in sugar and ask your dentist about sealants and fluoride applications.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Dentistry.
Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, February 2003.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2003


Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 6:18:29 AM



STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!