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Toothaches: Getting to the Root of the Problem

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Toothaches: Getting to the Root of the Problem

Toothaches: Getting to the Root of the Problem

October 09, 2007
By: Danae Roumis for Dental1

Part I

Toothaches used to mean the anticipation of a visit from the tooth fairy. Unfortunately, now they are a bit more of a hassle, and come without an allowance for your pain. The good news is that toothaches are your body’s way of telling you that something deeper may be going on. With the incidence of dental conditions on the rise, being able to recognize toothache symptoms will give you an advantage in maintaining your oral health.
Take Action
  • Chronic toothaches can be a signal that something is going on beneath the surface.
  • Schedule an appointment with your dentist if your toothaches have become regular and/or if your symptoms have intensified.
  • Become familiar with the symptoms of your toothache. Take note of the start and frequency of your pain, where it is located, its severity and sensitivities, and if you have any other non-dental symptoms associated with the toothache. The specifics can be important for determining the root of the problem.

  • Toothaches are due to the irritation of the nerve root in the inner part, or pulp, of the tooth. Typical symptoms include throbbing or sharp pains on the tooth and surrounding gum area. These pains can be intermittent or continuous, and can become chronic. Patients with toothaches usually experience some sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet or sour foods.

    The most common causes of toothaches are dental cavities, also called dental decay or dental caries. These holes in the outer layers – the enamel and the dentin – are made by bacteria which thrive on the sugars and starches that get stuck in and between teeth after eating, and they leave roots out in the open. Fillings are the standard procedure for cavities. The second most common cause of toothaches is gum disease, or gingivitis. This is the inflammation of the soft tissue of the gums, known as the gingiva, and sometimes loss of the bone that holds teeth in place. Gum disease is also caused by toxins secreted by the bacteria in plaque. Chronic gum disease contributes to root sensitivities, and thus toothaches. Early stages of root exposure can be soothed using fluoride gels supplied by dentists, or special toothpastes (such as Sensodyne or Denquel). They strengthen the roots, making them less sensitive. The root canal procedure is used when a dental cavity or gingivitis has intruded on the pulp, which involves replacing the infected inner layer with another material. Root canals are performed as the alternative to extraction, but a tooth whose pulp is severely infected may need to be pulled.

    Often, toothache can be a symptom of the emergence of wisdom teeth. If you have not had your wisdom teeth removed, contact your dentist. You may be asked to schedule an X-ray to determine whether your wisdom teeth should be extracted.

    The standard oral care regimen of brushing twice a day using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, using antiseptic mouthwash, and avoiding sugar and starch will help prevent any conditions associated with toothaches. Regular, biannual check ups at your dentist are crucial for detecting signs of dental decay. Use a mouth guard when playing sports to protect against damage to the teeth, mouth and jaw. Staying true to a healthy diet and avoiding the use of cigarettes or other tobacco products will also contribute greatly to your oral – and overall – health.

    Join us in Part Two, when we explore some non-dental related causes of a toothache...

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