What do different types of tooth pain mean?

There is a common misconception that if there is not tooth pain, there are no problems or concerns. This is often not the case. Pain can occur for a number of reasons, however it is important to note firstly, that regular check-ups are really important in order to catch painless problems early so that only a small fix is necessary. The information to follow is for a general guide only, it is not comprehensive, and there are always exceptions to every rule.

In regards to pain, there are 3 main types of tooth pain, which could be broken into 5 main categories.

1 – Sensitivity to cold. This is usually a short/sharp pain, and it would indicate that there is a bit of irritation on the nerve, however this can happen in a few different ways.

  1. When there is decay in the tooth, the protective layer of enamel is broken, which allows cold water and air particularly to irritation the nerve. Usually a filling will help this, as long as it is small.
  2. When the teeth are worn. Often this will happen when people brush their teeth too hard, or grind aggressively. This is not decay, however the protective layer of enamel is also worn away which allows cold air and water to irritate the nerve. Often desensitising toothpastes or other stronger pastes at the dentist can help, but these will sometimes require fillings, or in the case of heavy grinders, crowns.
  3. Cracked teeth. Again this relates to the enamel protection missing, but this time due to a crack. These teeth again with be sensitive, but often when chewing, there is a sharp pain. The extent of the crack will determine treatment, however a crown is often the best solution to treat these issues.

2 – Sensitivity to hot. When the sensitivity is brought on by hot (often as well as cold) it usually lingers a little longer, and is an indication that bacteria are affecting the nerve. Once the nerve is irritated in this manner, it is more likely that treatment such as root canals or extractions will be needed. Obviously costs increase with these treatments when compared to more basic fillings, and it is therefore important to get small issues seen to before they progress to this. As this can happen without pain, it highlights the importance of getting regular checks.

3 – Aching pain. This is the typical toothache type of pain that most people refer to. It is generally a dull, but constant pain. This type of pain usually refers to issues within the bone supporting the teeth. Most commonly, this would be an infection that has travelled through the nerve canal in the tooth, and is now building up pressure in the bone. This will also require root canal or extraction, however the infection can often make numbing the area more difficult. An aching pain could also less commonly be related to trauma, ‘gum disease’ (periodontitis), a heavy bite/griding, or erupting teeth (often wisdom teeth). The treatments for these other types of issues can vary greatly and it is best to have it seen to by a dentist.

Ultimately while it is useful to have an idea of what might be causing the pain, and what you might be looking at to fix it, all of these problems are preventable, through excellent oral hygiene, and regular check-ups.

We hope this has been helpful for you!


Kind regards,

The team at Riverina Smiles