What causes toothache? And how to stop tooth pain?

Tooth pain is a common dental issue. It is likely that we will all experience it at some point in our lives. Toothaches can be largely prevented by conducting proper oral hygiene that includes brushing, flossing, and mouth rinsing.

But it’s not always possible to avoid. Learn how to treat tooth pain and what home remedies may be useful.

woman with toothache in a dental office

Toothache causes and treatment

When the nerve of a tooth is irritated, you feel pain. This may happen for different reasons and there are different treatment options for each case. If the pain is caused by a dental issue, your dentist will be able relieve it. Some professionals allow walk-ins for emergency toothache relief.

First, the problem needs to be diagnosed. This will include a visual inspection and consultation and some X-rays may be taken. The dentist will then decide on the best course of action to get rid of the pain.


This is the most common cause of tooth pain. Decay happens when you neglect to clean your teeth properly. Bacteria feed on remaining food particles in the mouth and produce acids that damage the enamel. The teeth may even crack during this process. Sometimes decay appears as brown or black spots.

Dr. Eric Moryoussef
Cavities will often not start hurting until they are very close, or into, the nerve of the tooth.

Caries are most often treated with a filling or, if it has reached the dental pulp, root canal treatment. If the decay has damaged an extensive portion of the tooth, you may receive a crown.


Infection in your mouth may induce a fever. This is the first sign that you may be dealing with something serious. It can develop due to poor oral hygiene, neglected tooth decay, and smoking. You are likely to experience swelling and pus pockets forming near your teeth. Such tooth infections often induce throbbing pain.

If a dental abscess is present it will be drained and you may need a course of antibiotics. Periodontitis may be treated with a scaling and root planing procedure.

Crack or fracture

Damage to teeth can take place upon trauma, untreated tooth decay, or biting into something hard. Some types of trauma may even need surgical intervention to make sure the pulp doesn’t become infected. The damage is not always visible.

Broken tooth pain may be caused by the following matter getting inside through a crack or fracture:

  • food particles,
  • bacteria,
  • water or drinks, and
  • air.

The dental pulp shouldn’t come into contact with any of these substances. Your body’s way of letting you know something is wrong is pulsating pain. The tooth will require a cleaning and root canal or extraction in more extreme cases. It may be closed off with composite or a crown.


Impacted teeth may not only lead to infection but also significant discomfort. When there is soft tissue or bone in the way of the growth of dentition, the pressure may be incredibly painful. This is most common with wisdom teeth. Risk factors include:

  • remaining baby teeth,
  • cysts, and
  • genetics.

The gum and, sometimes, bone will have to be surgically opened. The tooth is removed and, while recovery may be painful, the problem will be gone in the long-term.


TMJ is a painful condition of the jaw. Discomfort is most prominent when patients open their mouth, usually during eating or yawning. The cause is often injury or inflammation of the temporomandibular joint. Treatment is very specific, so accurate diagnosis is key.

If you suffer from TMJ or bruxism, your dentist might suggest a nightguard.

Dental work

Pain after a filling, tooth extraction, a root canal, or implant placement
is common. Your dentist will let you know how long it will last. It may be worse for 1-2 days when biting down as well. This can be normal.

If a restoration chips or cracks it may also lead to some discomfort, which is a sign you should visit the office. It will be repaired and the pain should subside.

Non-dental causes

Sometimes pain from other areas of your body may radiate to your mouth, especially the jaw region. The following conditions may cause a toothache or be confused with dental pain:

  • angina,
  • cluster headaches,
  • heart disease,
  • uncontrolled diabetes,
  • viral infections,
  • nerve disease,
  • drug abuse complications,
  • deficiency of vitamin B12,
  • sinusitis, and
  • ear infections.

In the case that the problem is not brought on by anything going on in your mouth, you may receive a prescription or referral to another medical professional.

Home remedies for a toothache

The best way to help a toothache is to contact a dentist or doctor. If you don’t have access to fast professional care, toothache home remedies might come in handy.

Try the following tips to stop tooth pain as quick as possible.

Take OTC painkillers

The fastest way to remedy any pain in your body is to take medication. Some types also have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce swelling as well. It’s hard to say what the best pain reliever for a toothache is, as this may be different from person to person. Some great choices include taking ibuprofen and paracetamol even for severe tooth pain.

If you need to take them for more than a few days, seek help from a professional. This is a cause for concern.

Use oil of cloves

Many dentists recommend using clove oil for toothaches. It is a natural pain reliever thanks to an active ingredient called eugenol. The oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it may help bring swelling down. Soak a gauze pad with the oil and gently bite on it.

Rinse your mouth with saltwater solution

Dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a glass of warm water. Rinsing your mouth with this solution will remove any food debris left behind after meals. It’s important to keep your teeth clean, especially if you are looking at decay or an infection. This tooth pain remedy may also help bring swelling down, which is sometimes the root of the problem.

Apply a cold compress

A cold compress on your cheek close to the affected area may relieve some discomfort temporarily. Apply it for 20 minutes and take a 20 minute break. Repeat as necessary or convenient.

Sleep in a propped-up position

You might feel like your toothache is worse at night. It may be surprising, but this is not just a feeling, it’s a dental fact. This happens because as you lay down, blood rushes to your head, putting more pressure on the sore area. Stack pillows on top of each other and try to keep your head up while you sleep or lay down to avoid worse pain.

Adjust your diet

Some foods and drinks may increase your pain or even make the problem worse. This mainly includes hot and cold meals and beverages. Anything that is sweet or sticky can get stuck in cracks and fissures, leading to a more serious issue.

Avoid bad habits

Both alcohol and smoking is risky when it comes to your oral health. It may introduce bacteria into your mouth, which, coupled with any decay or fracture, could have serious complications. Though it may seem like these substances may alleviate some pain, they may actually worsen the problem.


What symptoms may arise with tooth pain?

The most common things you might experience when a tooth is hurting is sensitivity to hot and cold stimuli, pain upon chewing and biting, trouble swallowing, and bad breath. This discomfort will disappear when you target the problem.

If you can also see inflammation in the mouth, bleeding around the teeth, discoloration of enamel, and fever or chills, you may be looking at a more serious problem.

In the case that any of the signs mentioned above last for longer than 3 days, they are unlikely to go away on their own. You should contact a dental professional and seek help.

What is the best painkiller for toothache?

Ibuprofen and aspirin are great for toothaches as they also have anti-inflammatory properties. Some patients, however, can’t take them. Your next choice should be paracetamol.

Why is my tooth pain worse at night?

As blood rushes towards your head when you lay down, more pressure is placed on the aching tooth. You may want to lay down a few pillows and try to sleep in a propped-up position.

How long can a toothache last?

TThere is no general time-frame for a toothache. It all depends on the cause. The fastest way to relieve pain is to target the issue.

Can tooth pain go away by itself?

Sometimes toothaches may go away, but the underlying issues still remain. This means it can come back later, and worse. Stay up-to-date with your regular check-ups to make sure your overall health is up to par.