Tooth pain: what’s causing your tooth ache, how to relieve it, and when to seek help.

A tooth ache can be a frustrating, distracting, and downright distressing experience. At its worst, it can keep you from eating, talking, and sleeping properly, but even mild tooth pain can leave you feeling anxious and stressed.

The good news is that most causes of tooth pain are very easily treatable. Let’s talk about the most common sources of tooth ache, what you can do about it, and when you should speak to your dentist.

Enamel erosion

If you only experience tooth ache when you eat hot or cold foods, your pain could be caused by enamel erosion. Tooth enamel is the hard exterior layer of your teeth that protects the sensitive structures inside. It’s incredibly tough — the hardest substance in the human body, in fact — but it can be broken down over time by acidic foods, aggressive brushing, smoking, or tooth grinding.

You can reduce sensitivity and prevent further enamel erosion by using a desensitizing toothpaste with fluoride twice a day, switching to a soft-bristled toothbrush, and avoiding highly acidic foods and cigarettes. If you grind your teeth, it may also help to use a mouth guard when you sleep.

If your enamel erosion is advanced and your pain is severe, your dentist can apply a special fluoride varnish to your teeth to reinforce the surface. In particularly serious cases, we may recommend crowns or protective overlays.

Tooth decay

The most common cause of tooth ache is tooth decay. Most of us will experience a degree of tooth decay at some point, especially children and the elderly. However, it can be worsened by a high-sugar diet and poor dental hygiene.

Your mouth is home to millions upon millions of acid-producing bacteria. The acids combine with food and saliva to create plaque, a substance that adheres to the teeth. Without regular brushing and frequent dental cleanings, plaque builds up over time.

The acids in plaque erode the enamel surface and cause cavities, or small holes in the tooth. This leaves the delicate inner structure of the tooth exposed, which can cause tooth ache and sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

Smaller cavities can be fixed with simple fillings, but as they advance, they become more difficult to treat. You may need crowns or caps to restore teeth, and if the nerve is damaged, you may need a root canal. That’s why we recommend regular check-ups every six months; catching cavities early is your best defense!


If a cavity reaches the base of the tooth, where the nerve and root are located, the nerve can die and an abscess may develop. These pockets of pus are often very painful and can lead to infection not just in the mouth, but throughout the body.

Signs that you have an abscess usually include intense tooth pain that radiates throughout your face and jaw, swelling on the affected side, discoloration of the tooth, inflammation of the gums, and an unpleasant taste in your mouth. If you suspect an abscess, it’s important that you make an appointment with your dentist immediately.

Tooth damage

If your tooth has been injured, the pulp inside can start to decay and the surrounding soft tissue can become inflamed, sore, and infected. If the tooth has been cracked or chipped, or if dental fixtures like fillings and crowns have become loose, the sensitive inner tooth may also be suffering from exposure to harmful acid and bacteria.

Tooth damage is not always obvious but it can progress into a serious problem over time. If you’ve experienced a recent injury, or if your pain is centered around a filling, crown, veneer, or implant, it’s worth having a professional examination to check for damage. And again, keep up those six-month checks so we can catch any problems early on!

Gum disease

The acid and bacteria in plaque can irritate the gums and cause them to become red, swollen, and sore. If plaque is left to build up, eventually the gums will start to bleed when you brush your teeth. This is the early stage of gum disease, also known as gingivitis.

If left untreated, gingivitis develops into periodontitis. This painful condition affects the soft tissues at the base of your teeth and in your jaw. It causes your gum line to recede, creating pockets between the gums and the teeth. This exposes the tooth’s inner structure to acid and bacteria, and causes food to become trapped, which puts you at risk of infection. Eventually, this can cause damage to the jaw bone and tooth loss.

You can usually manage early-stage gum disease by brushing well twice a day, flossing after eating, and using a mouthwash containing chlorohexidine. However, if you’re noticing persistent bleeding or pain when you brush your teeth, then it’s time to make an appointment with your dentist for a plaque removal treatment.

General tooth pain management

If good dental hygiene doesn’t relieve your tooth pain, or if you suspect tooth damage, infection, or gum disease, we recommend making an appointment to investigate. If you’re struggling while you wait for your appointment, you can rinse your mouth with salt water and use over-the-counter painkillers or anaesthetic gels to manage the pain. However, there are some instances where you should seek help immediately.

If your tooth pain is severe…

Severe tooth pain can be a sign of infection, abscess, or serious structural damage. Call your dentist immediately if your pain is:

  • Prolonged and intense or unbearable.
  • Not responding to painkillers or pain management.
  • Accompanied by facial or jaw swelling.
  • Accompanied by heavy or persistent bleeding.
  • Accompanied by a fever 

In some cases, severe pain in the jaw and tooth area can be a sign of a serious non-dental problem like a heart attack. Go to the emergency room if your pain is:

  • Causing your neck and throat to swell up.
  • Interfering with your ability to eat or speak.
  • Accompanied by chest or neck pain.
  • Accompanied by breathing difficulties.

Don’t suffer through tooth ache!

If you’re suffering with ongoing tooth pain, or if you suspect a serious problem, then it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. The expert team at Mountain Peak Dentistry can help you to manage your tooth pain and keep your smile happy and healthy. Contact us now on (303) 988-7800 to arrange an appointment.

About Mountain Peak Dentistry
Mountain Peak Dentistry is the dental practice of leading dentist, Dr. Brennan Bonati. We’re proud to be recognized as the most trusted, reliable and compassionate dental practice in Lakewood, CO and the surrounding areas, providing comprehensive, restorative and cosmetic dentistry .

     About Dr. Bonati

Dr. Bonati loves being able to restore patients smiles and focuses and restorative and cosmetic dentistry. What really excites Dr. Bonati about dentistry, however, is that he can develop strong relationships with his patients and help them achieve their goals, whether that means improving their smile cosmetically or by simply keeping their teeth healthy.

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