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What are the main symptoms and signs of toothache?

There are many reasons why you may experience a toothache.  Symptoms may manifest as sensitivity, sharp pains or dull aches. These may be transient and in response to factors like temperature or pressure, or symptoms may come on spontaneously and linger, with no apparent cause.

It is important to try and recognise the level and type of pain, when and how it worsens, what alleviates it and for how long it has been tender in order to assist with diagnoses.

Why is it important to have your toothache checked by a dentist?

A lack of symptoms doesn’t always mean a tooth is fit and healthy. It is very common to have no symptoms until the later stages of decay and infection. As such, the earlier an issue is identified, the better the chance the treatment is less invasive and less expensive.  Subsequently it is best to stay on top of your general check-ups and see the dentist as soon as you experience something out of the ordinary. 

Delaying treatment is never a good idea, even if your symptoms seem to have settled down. Sometimes pain may have dissipated, but often there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. Inaction may mean that the problem will persist and worsen.

Painkillers or antibiotics may give temporary relief, but this is not treatment and won’t fix the problem. If the underlying cause of the pain is not addressed, the toothache could return and be worse, or in more serious cases run the risk of a potential infection spreading.

What are the main causes and symptoms of a toothache?

A toothache can also be due to a crack in the tooth. Teeth usually crack when they have large filings in them, when the patient has a heavy bite force, after a root canal treatment that has left the tooth fragile, or after chewing on hard foods. This is why crowns/caps on teeth are recommended in some instances as they add extra strength and provide support to the remaining structure of a previously treated tooth. Toothache symptoms from a crack can be varied, however ‘rebound pain’ (i.e. when biting on the tooth and releasing) may be the cause of discomfort. Your dentist will perform a number of tests to determine the toothache treatment in this instance.

Toothaches may also be caused by gum problems. Sometimes our gums can become infected, causing pain. Gum recession can also cause a toothache. In these instances, the dentine of the tooth is exposed, and when cold air, foods or drinks enter the mouth, a short, sharp, cold sensation can be experienced. Using sensitive toothpastes and/or fluoride varnish, or even having gum surgery, may be necessary to treat this type of toothache.

Wisdom teeth can also cause a toothache. Sometimes, our mouths do not have enough room for our wisdom teeth to erupt, and they become impacted. These teeth can easily become infected and cause toothaches. The toothache symptoms from wisdom teeth are usually discomfort of the gum, sore jaws and / or a dull throb in the area.

Sometimes a toothache may not be associated with the tooth itself but is referred from surrounding structures. In such cases, a general dentist may choose to refer the patients to a medical doctor.

A less common, but still significant, cause of a sore tooth is sinus infection, which is often accompanied by a blocked nose and tenderness around the sinus.

You might also have a sore tooth after a filling has been placed. This kind of sensitivity will generally wear off after one to two weeks.

How to prevent a toothache?

It is strongly recommended you practice good oral hygiene and see your dentist every six months for routine examinations. Irrespective of the kind of pain or discomfort you are experiencing, it is strongly advised that you visit your dentist as soon as possible. They will examine the area and perform appropriate tests and investigations to diagnose your problem and provide you with the appropriate treatment.

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