Fix Tooth Pain & Toothache

If someone has throbbing pain in a tooth, it is an indicator that they may have tooth damage.  Inflammation or infection in a tooth, called pulpitis, generally causes a toothache but there are several other things that can cause them.  Both children and adults can develop toothaches and should see a dentist as soon as possible if they show signs or symptoms.  It is likely that a dental exam and X-rays will be needed to accurately diagnose the cause of the pain.

To better understand toothaches and pain, we will discuss their symptoms, common causes, and available treatment options.


In addition to throbbing pain, other toothache symptoms may include:

  • Constant, dull ache or pain in the tooth and/or jaw
  • Shooting pain when biting
  • Pain when eating sugary foods
  • Tingling or sensitivity in the tooth
  • Tenderness or pain in the mouth
  • Swelling in the gums or mouth
  • Redness
  • Bad smell and/or taste in the mouth
  • Pus or discharge
  • A fever

Common Causes & Associated Treatment

Tooth Decay:  The most common cause of tooth pain is tooth decay (a cavity).  Decay occurs when the bacteria from plaque eats away the outer layer of the tooth’s enamel.  While bacteria is a normal part of a healthy mouth and body, too much bacteria that is allowed to accumulate without being removed can lead to cavities forming.  TREATMENT:  Teeth cleaning to remove plaque, fillings for any cavity, and/or antibiotics to kill any infection.

Tooth Abscess:  An Abscessed tooth occurs when some or all of the inner tooth pulp dies.  An abscess refers to the pocket of bacteria created by the dead pulp tissue and is often caused by a tooth infection, inflammation, or damage.  TREATMENT:  Antibiotics to kill the infection causing bacteria, drain and clean out the abscess, cleaning and treatment of the gums (if abscess is due to gum disease), a root canal procedure (if abscess due to cracked tooth or decay), and/or a dental implant if tooth extraction is required.

Tooth Fracture/Crack:  A split or crack in the tooth can occur from biting something hard or result from an injury to the face or jaw.  The crack creates a space where things can get into the tooth irritating the nerves and pulp leading to throbbing pain.  Bacteria, food particles, water, or air can all penetrate the crack causing discomfort.  TREATMENT:  Dental bonding, a veneer, a filling, a crown, and/or a root canal.

Damaged Filling:  Because they are not permanent, fillings can get damaged over time from normal biting and chewing which can lead to toothaches.  TREATMENT:  Repair or replace the damaged filling or place a crown if damage is too extensive.

 Gum Infection:  Gingivitis is a gum infection that can lead to gum disease or periodontitis.  Caused by poor oral hygiene, poor diet, smoking, hormonal changes, and certain health conditions, gum disease is the leading cause of adult tooth loss.  TREATMENT:  Antibiotics, regular cleanings, medicated mouthwash, scaling and root planing, and dental surgery (in severe cases). 

Clenching or Grinding Teeth:  Bruxism, or teeth grinding, usually happens when asleep and can lead to tooth and jaw pain as the teeth wear down.  Patients with bruxism are at a higher risk for developing cavities, fractured teeth, and tooth pain.  TREATMENT:  Stress relief techniques, mental health counseling, and wearing a nightguard (mouth guard).

 Loose Crown:  Like a filling, crowns are not permanent and can become loose or damaged as a result of normal use.  When this happens, bacteria can get trapped under the crown leading to throbbing pain.  TREATMENT:  Remove, replace, or repair the crown.

 Eruption of a Tooth:  Discomfort in the surrounding teeth, gums, and jaw is natural when new teeth are erupting.  Eruption of a tooth is most common when a child’s permanent teeth are coming in but also occurs when an adult grows wisdom teeth.  TREATMENT:  Pain relievers, numbing gels, time, or minor dental surgery (if impaction occurs).

More on Fixing Teeth : Fix Missing Teeth

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Iowa Dental Group Des Moines

1233 63rd Street
Des Moines, Ia 50311
(515) 277-6358

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Our Des Moines' Dentists Bob Margeas DDS & Nicholas Economos are eager to help provide any answers you may have. Contact us today regarding optimal oral health.

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