Read below about toothache, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your toothache from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Toothache Symptoms

Tooth pain is an unwelcome surprise after gulping down a nice cold drink or chomping on some corn on the cob. Whether it's a nagging, dull ache or a sharp jolt that makes you jump, tooth pain can be cause for concern [1,2].

Good dental hygiene (yes, including, flossing) and regular visits to the dentist go a long way in preventing tooth pain, but even the pearliest whites aren't immune [3]. Dental problems grow more common with age yet can begin in childhood, long before adult teeth come in.

Tooth pain may seem unimportant, but it can be a warning sign of worse things to come. Teeth and gums help shield the body from infection, and when they break down, the body loses this natural defense.

Common symptoms are:

Toothache Causes Overview

That irritating toothache is often a sign of decay caused by a buildup of bacteria in the mouth. What starts as a colorless, sticky film, called plaque, can quickly progress to hardened, yellow or brown deposits called tartar [4]. Without proper dental hygiene, the bacteria can cause erosions in teeth and infections in the surrounding area.

Infectious causes:

  • Tooth decay: Acid produced by bacteria in the mouth can break down the hard tissues of the teeth.
  • Inflammation of the gums: Swollen gums can be quite uncomfortable and are a sign of bacteria buildup in the mouth.
  • Abscess: An infection that has been brewing for some time can produce a pocket of pus in teeth or surrounding tissues [5].

Mechanical causes:

  • Third molars: While some people are able to keep these "wisdom teeth," there's often not enough room in the mouth and overcrowding can cause pain.
  • Teeth grinding : This can occur during the day or at night while sleeping and can irritate the nerves in the teeth and other areas.
  • Dental work: Teeth can be especially sensitive after a visit to the dentist for a filling or crown.
  • Jaw joint inflammation: Problems with the jaw joint and muscles may cause pain that feels like it is coming from your teeth [6].
  • Trauma: A cracked tooth is not only painful and unsightly but can also increase the chance of infection.
  • Teething : In children, the eruption of baby teeth and later adult teeth commonly cause discomfort.

Other causes:

  • Poor diet: Eating lots of sugary snacks and drinks feeds bacteria in the mouth and can lead to painful infections and other problems.
  • Poor dental hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing helps keep dental problems at bay and can prevent toothaches.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Toothache

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced toothache. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Tooth Abscess (Infection)

    A tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is due to bacterial infection.

    Resolves after treatment

    Top Symptoms:
    severe jaw or tooth pain, swollen jaw, jaw stiffness, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages, warm and red jaw swelling
    Symptoms that always occur with tooth abscess (infection):
    severe jaw or tooth pain
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Dental Cavity

    Dental cavities are bacterial infections of the tooth. The bacteria produce acid that breaks down the tooth.

    1 day with proper treatment

    Top Symptoms:
    dry mouth, toothache, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult, pain in the top row of teeth, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages
    Symptoms that never occur with dental cavity:
    spontanenous tooth pain
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Severe Cavity

    Dental cavity requiring a root canal or tooth extraction.

    Resolves with treatment

    Top Symptoms:
    dry mouth, toothache, spontanenous tooth pain, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult
    Symptoms that always occur with severe cavity:
    spontanenous tooth pain
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Primary care doctor

    Toothache Checker

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    Toothache Quiz
  5. 5.Infected Wisdom Tooth (Pericoronitis)

    Pericoronitis of the 3rd molar is an infection of the gums surrounding the 3rd molar (wisdom tooth). It almost never happens to normal teeth because wisdom teeth take a long time to break the gums (erupt). It's believed that once the wisdom tooth breaks the surface of the gums, the bacteria in the mouth get into the gums at that spot and cause an infection. This is also worsened by food particles that build up in the area.

    Need treatment for it to get better

    Top Symptoms:
    possible wisdom tooth pain, moderate tooth pain, tooth pain that makes chewing difficult, severe tooth pain, mild tooth pain
    Symptoms that always occur with infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis):
    possible wisdom tooth pain
    In-person visit
  6. 6.Acute Viral Sinusitis

    Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus spaces behind the nose and cheeks. These spaces produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If the nose is swollen or if the mucus does not drain, this can block the sinuses and cause pain or infection.

    Symptoms should subside within 7-10 days

    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
  7. 7.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Osteonecrosis of the Jaw

    This is a condition where the jaw bone is exposed (this happens if it is not covered by gums). To be called osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), this condition must persist for at least 8 weeks. This disease is common among people taking medications called bisphosphonates or RANKL inhibitors.

    Resolves within months with conservative treatment.

    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    jaw pain, jaw lump, toothache, swollen jaw, heavy jaw
    Symptoms that always occur with osteonecrosis of the jaw:
    jaw pain
    Primary care doctor

Toothache Treatments and Relief

By the time tooth pain hits, there's usually an underlying problem that requires a thorough examination by a dentist. So, it's best to address the problem before it happens in the first place.

Preventive treatments:

  • Brushing: Most people rush this basic part of dental hygiene. Be sure to clean all surfaces of your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and gentle back and forth motions for at least two minutes. Change your toothbrush at least every three months.
  • Flossing: There's a reason the dentist always asks about this important step. Cleaning the space between teeth and gums once a day removes bacteria and prevents infection and inflammation.
  • Fluoride rinse: These over-the-counter solutions are a popular supplement to the fluoride already found in toothpaste.
  • Antibacterial mouthwash: These rinses, which typically contain alcohol or chlorhexidine, reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.

After a toothache develops and before you make it to the dentist, there are a few remedies that can help relieve the pain.

  • Numbing gels: Products containing benzocaine, such as Orajel, are applied directly to an area of discomfort and can make it easier to eat or drink with a toothache.
  • Painkillers: Advil, Motrin or other products with ibuprofen are effective for treatment of dental pain. Tylenol is a good alternative and can be alternated with ibuprofen for even stronger pain relief.
  • Clove oil: A few drops of this natural remedy can be applied directly to the painful area in the mouth.
  • Salt rinse: A combination of salt dissolved in warm water can help fight the underlying cause of the pain.

Once you get to the dentist's office, there are a few things that may help relieve your tooth pain:

  • Filling: If the tooth has begun to decay, the dentist will replace the decay with a solid material so that bacteria do not continue to spread.
  • Root canal: If an infection has reached the center part of the tooth made up of living tissue, the dentist will clean this area out.
  • Crown: This is a cap placed over a damaged tooth to prevent spread of decay or infection.

It's important to see a dentist right away if you have:

  • Toothache that is very severe or does not improve with medication
  • Fever with dental pain
  • Problems eating, swallowing or breathing
  • Loose adult tooth
  • A fractured or knocked-out tooth

FAQs About Toothache

Here are some frequently asked questions about toothache.

What causes toothache?

Toothache is most often caused by tooth decay or cavity. The inside of your tooth, called the pulp, contains nerves and blood vessels that can become irritated and cause the sensation of a toothache. Nerves can be irritated by factors like bacterial toxins, chemicals, trauma, and even inflammatory chemicals produced by your own body in response to an infection.

Do I have a cavity?

Cavities are best diagnosed by your dentist, who can probe your teeth to look for soft spots indicating decay, or use X-rays to look between your teeth [7]. Tooth decay occurs because of breakdown of enamel by acid-generating bacteria, and, if untreated, can progress to cavities. Signs that you may have a cavity include tooth pain after eating or drinking something sweet or hot/cold and visible cavitated lesions.

Can cavities cause jaw pain?

If a cavity has been left untreated for an extended period of time, bacteria can invade the area and begin to spread to adjacent bony tissues, causing significant jaw pain. Jaw pain does not necessarily indicate a tooth cavity, however. One common source of jaw pain that is often incorrectly thought to be related to tooth pathology is temporomandibular disorder.

What causes toothaches at night?

There are several reasons why toothaches can occur or become worse at night. One major reason is that lying flat causes increased blood flow to the head, causing increased pressure on sensitive areas of your teeth. Another reason is that food may still be lodged in between your teeth from your last meal and may cause irritation to the surrounding area. Finally, teeth grinding at night may also cause pain.

Why does toothache cause radiating pain in the sinuses?

The roots and nerves of your top back teeth lie very closely to the maxillary sinuses, which are two large, air-filled spaces under the eyes and adjacent to your nose. As a result, buildup of fluid in the maxillary sinus secondary to inflammation of the sinuses can cause increased pressure and pain to the teeth. Similarly, infection of the upper teeth can cause pain that seems to be stemming from the sinuses.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Toothache

  • Q.Has your dentist or significant other ever told you that you grind your teeth in your sleep?
  • Q.Were you hit or injured anywhere on your face? If so, where?
  • Q.Is this tooth on the upper row (maxilla) or lower row (mandible)?
  • Q.Do you take good care of your teeth?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our toothache symptom checker to find out more.

Toothache Quiz

Toothache Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced toothache have also experienced:

    • 7% Headache
    • 4% Gum Pain
    • 4% Swollen Face
  • People who have experienced toothache had symptoms persist for:

    • 41% Less Than a Week
    • 31% Less Than a Day
    • 11% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced toothache were most often matched with:

    • 33% Tooth Abscess (Infection)
    • 33% Dental Cavity
    • 33% Severe Cavity
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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Toothache Quiz


  1. Fukuda KI. Diagnosis and treatment of abnormal dental pain. J Dent Anesth Pain Med. 2016;16(1):1-8. NCBI Link.
  2. Renton T. Dental (odontogenic) pain. Rev Pain. 2011;5(1):2-7. NCBI Link.
  3. What can adults do to maintain good oral health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated April 27, 2018. CDC Link.
  4. Fotek I. Plaque and tartar on teeth. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  5. Shweta, Prakash SK. Dental abscess: A microbiological review. Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2013;10(5):585-591. NCBI Link.
  6. Temporomandibular joint disorder. Cedars-Sinai. Cedars-Sinai Link.
  7. Fotek I. Dental cavities. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.