A dental emergency or toothache may first present itself when eating something cold, hot or sweet. The most common cause of toothache – tooth decay – can leave vulnerable the interior pulp of the tooth (where the tissue and nerves are located). This can cause pain and irritation when eating or biting.
In addition to decay, toothache can be caused by a dental infection, gum disease, Bruxism (tooth grinding), trauma to the teeth, or an incorrect bite. In children, teething can also cause toothache.
Non-dental causes of toothache include sinus or ear infections, TMJ and generalized tension in the muscles of the face, all of which can mimic a toothache. However, these issues often include other symptoms, like headaches, not common in cases of toothache. More seriously, tooth and jaw pain also can be a symptom of heart diseases.
Toothache Symptoms and Diagnosis
A consultation with a dentist and possibly a medical doctor is the best way to determine the nature and cause of tooth pain and the best course of treatment. An appointment should be made with a dentist immediately if any of the following issues are observed:
- obstructed or difficult breathing and/or swallowing
- pain when biting down
- swelling around the tooth or at the painful site
- an unpleasant discharge
This last one is critical as pus or foul discharge can indicate a dental emergency, like an abscess in the tooth which if left untreated could spread to the surrounding bone. Similarly, pus accompanied by swelling could also be symptom of gum disease, which can eventually cause bone loss in the mouth and jaw.
In the case of a dental emergency like an infected tooth, a dentist may need to remove the tooth or perform a root canal, removing the affected nerves and tissues from the interior of the tooth. During a consultation of this kind, a dentist will thoroughly examine the patient’s mouth and teeth, looking for any swelling or discoloration or visible damage to the teeth. He or she may also order X-Rays to check for problems in the interior of the teeth or the bones, like an impacted tooth, or for damage located between the teeth and thus not visible during a standard inspection. For less advanced infections and other types of dental damage, a dentist may prescribe antibiotics or pain relievers to speed the healing process and reduce discomfort.