Waking up with a toothache is never a fun experience. From inflamed and irritated gums to acute pangs when you bite down and even dull pains that seem to wrap around your entire head, they can present themselves in a number of ways — none of which are enjoyable. 

But perhaps the only thing worse than actually suffering the pain of a toothache is driving yourself crazy wondering what the cause of it may be. We’ll help you narrow it down below. 

5 Common Causes of Toothaches

Want to know what’s causing your toothache? Well, it could be one of these five common conditions. 

1. Cavity

The most common cause of toothaches is cavities or tooth decay. Cavities are often caused by insufficient oral hygiene, like brushing or flossing improperly or irregularly. However, even if you do stick to a strict brushing and flossing schedule, they may still pop up every now and then. 

See, cavities form when bacteria builds up on the surface of your teeth. At first, they’re barely noticeable, probably just appearing as a tiny brown spot on the very outer layer of your tooth. However, over time, the bacteria can work their way into the inner pulp and nerves of your tooth, which is when pain may start. If cavities are left untreated for too long, they could lead to tooth infections, abscesses, or tooth loss. 

2. Injury

Have a cracked, broken, or chipped tooth? That’s probably your culprit. Even though your tooth enamel is one of the hardest substances in your body, it’s still prone to injury when matched up against very crunchy foods or flying hockey pucks. 

And once your tooth suffers an injury, it can hurt — bringing either dull, achy pains or sharp, shooting ones to your mouth and head. This is especially true if the injury is located above your gum line. 

3. Impacted Teeth

Impacted teeth are teeth blocked from breaking through the surface of your gum. Most people experience this with wisdom teeth. If you’re experiencing pain around your back molars and still have your wisdom teeth, it’s probably time to get them removed

In many cases, your dentist can spot your wisdom teeth coming in on an x-ray before you can associate any pain with them. But there’s always a chance that they get missed because you haven’t been to the dentist or had an x-ray done in a while. 

Either way, if you’re experiencing wisdom tooth pain, act quickly. The pain will only increase as your wisdom teeth continue to come in, especially if they come in at a misaligned or sideways angle. Although wisdom tooth extractions may seem scary, your dentist will make sure you feel as comfortable as possible throughout the process. 

4. Gum Disease

Shockingly, almost half of adults aged 30 years or older have some form of gum disease. There are two common stages of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis — and they can both cause serious pain!

Gingivitis is the milder of the two, mostly just causing your gums to swell and bleed easily. But, if it’s left untreated, it could turn into periodontitis, which is much more severe. Periodontitis destroys your gums and bones, leading to teeth loosening and falling out. 

5. TMJ

TMJ is an acronym for the temporomandibular joint, which is the joint that works your jaw and allows you to open and close your mouth. You use it while talking, chewing, and swallowing. The TMJ is located on each side of your face and consists of a network of discs, bones, ligaments, and muscles that all work together to help your jaw move. But when one of those components is injured or not functioning properly, it can lead to severe toothaches.

Any issue that causes pain or interferes with the function of the TMJ is referred to as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). TMD can be caused by a number of factors, such as misaligned teeth, jaw injury, arthritis, stress, and more. Sometimes the underlying cause of TMD is serious, and sometimes it’s nothing to worry over — but it’s always painful.

How to Soothe a Toothache at Home (Temporarily)

If you have a toothache, your first move should be to call your dentist. However, if your dentist doesn’t think it’s an immediate emergency, you might have to wait a day or two before you can get in. In that case, there are a few ways you can minimize your toothache at home

  • OTC pain medications – Over-the-counter pain medications like aspirin can help temporarily relieve your toothache — just make sure you take them as directed on their packaging. 
  • Saltwater rinse — Salt’s a natural disinfectant, so rinsing your mouth with a saltwater solution can help reduce inflammation and temporarily relieve your toothache. 
  • Ice compress — Placing an ice pack on the area surrounding your sore tooth can help constrict blood vessels, reduce swelling and inflammation, and temporarily relieve your toothache. 

Don’t Wait to See a Dentist

If you have a toothache, schedule an appointment as soon as possible. That way your dentist can determine the cause of the toothache and resolve it before it becomes more serious.

At West Michigan Dentistry, we believe that healthy smiles are the best smiles, and we’re here to help you achieve yours. Our dentists can relieve your toothache or any other dental problem you may have. Contact our office to schedule an appointment.