How to Tell When Your Tooth Pain May Be Serious

tooth-painJust as it’s never normal for your gums to bleed, your teeth should never hurt. Some tooth pain comes on gradually, and some begins suddenly and can be frightening in its intensity. Understanding what kind of tooth pain requires a prompt call to the dentist, what kind requires urgent care, and what tooth pain can signal an emergency can give you the confidence necessary to take action toward proper treatment.

Kinds of Tooth Pain And What They Mean

  1. Pain from untreated cavities. Teeth eroded by decay usually don’t cause pain until the situation is advanced. A large untreated cavity can also cause an abscess, a pocket of infection between the root of your tooth and the gum. Abscessed tooth pain is unmistakable – and dental infections can be life-threatening if left untreated – so make an urgent appointment with your dentist right away.
  2. Pain from a chipped or fractured tooth. A surface chip on your tooth probably won’t hurt, but you will want to get it treated so it doesn’t lead to problems. If your tooth is fractured at a deeper level (including your dentin and not just the enamel) it can result in an infection, which may include symptoms such as tooth pain when biting down on the tooth or when eating hot or cold foods. This is another scenario where calling the dentist for an immediate appointment is warranted.
  3. Pain from a knocked-out tooth. Clearly, if a tooth is jarred loose by an accident, a contact sport, or another cause, you will have severe tooth pain. General dentists or endodontists can often save a knocked-out tooth if you act quickly, preserve the tooth properly, and get to a practitioner within an hour of the incident.
  4. Pain from a less obvious cause. Tooth pain can be a symptom of other health concerns. You may feel tooth pain from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) or sinus inflammation. Teeth and jaw pain can be symptoms of a heart attack, so pay attention if your pain is accompanied by lightheadedness, chest pressure, or other cardiac symptoms.

Needless to say, if your tooth pain is accompanied by a potential jaw fracture, or you are having trouble breathing or swallowing, head straight to a hospital emergency room for treatment.

“Never ignore tooth pain – whether it’s just aggravating or completely agonizing,” says Dr. Carol Ford, dentist and founder of Dr. Carol Ford & Associates in central Phoenix. “Our team can assess your discomfort and ensure you get the right treatment.”


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