What a Pain in the Tooth: How to Diagnose Your Tooth Ache

Do you have persistent toothache? Does it hurt to chew? Use this handy guide to the most common types of dental pain to find out how to solve your toothache.

There are few things as uniquely frustrating as a persistent toothache. When it strikes, it is often very difficult to ignore. Even if the pain is not unusually intense or occurring in a stabbing or ‘jabbing’ sensation, soreness in the mouth can be a real problem. As the mouth and teeth are a source of so much activity, even mild pain can deteriorate quickly.

This is why it is important to keep up with regular dentist check-ups and examinations. They are designed to identify dental issues as early as possible, primarily so that pain does not get a chance to take hold. While there are, of course, plenty of things in life that can prevent us from visiting the dentist regularly, the advice is clear. If you maintain a healthy dental routine, you are much less likely to suffer with toothache.

If you have had a persistent toothache before, you will know what a nightmare it can be. It is distracting, annoying, and debilitating in some cases. You might have trouble concentrating at work. You may feel queasy and find it tough to carry out tasks and activities. And even more harmful, in some ways, is the psychological damage of toothache; namely, the worry about what might be wrong with your teeth.

The first step to take if you find yourself suffering with persistent toothache (for longer than a couple of days) is to call your dentist and schedule an examination. Your dental specialist is the only person who can help you. You may be able to take prescription medications to alleviate the pain, but this will not fix it. It will only mask the symptoms and, as soon as you stop taking the drugs, the pain will return.

Understanding How to Self-Diagnose Dental Pains

First things first; self-diagnosis, of dental or any other kind of physical pain, is for short term purposes only. In other words, it should be used only as rudimentary information until you get the chance to visit a doctor, dentist, or specialist. You should never take information that you find online and use it as a substitute for a qualified medical opinion.

Nevertheless, gathering as much information as you can may help you to approach your appointment with less fear and apprehension. It will also give you an idea of what to expect from your doctor, as regards diagnosis and further treatment. This is why personal research can be valuable.

There are as many different types of toothache as there are teeth in your mouth, so your symptoms may not match the ones described below. However, this guide will help you to describe your toothache to the dentist and help you to find some temporary relief while you wait for the appointment. You must not pick or play with problem teeth, because you will only introduce bacteria into the mouth.

You can use the following guide to the various different toothache (or odontalgia) types to try and diagnose the source of your dental woes.

Intermittent Sharp ‘Jabbing’ Pains

This is toothache that is less of an ache and more of an irregular jabbing or stabbing sensation within one or several teeth. It is usually felt in response to a stimulus. So, opening your mouth, chewing, eating cold foods, etc. It usually comes and goes, but is very painful when it does make an appearance. This type of pain may be caused by a crack, cavity, or abscess.

Sharp Tooth Sensitivity

This type of pain will feel similar to the one described above, but will only be felt when the tooth is exposed to changes in temperatures (eating ice cream or drinking coffee). In severe cases, even cold air can cause pain. As with a stabbing pain, it could be a product of a cavity or an abscess, but it may also be caused by rough brushing or gum recession.

Dull Nagging Toothache

This is the most common type of toothache and though it is usually quite mild, its persistence and deep, dull sensation can make it a tough problem to deal with. It will usually go away after taking over the counter painkillers, but you should not use this as a substitution for treatment. It may be caused by nerve damage or tooth decay, so consult your dentist immediately. This type of pain is frequently seen in people who grind their teeth.

Extreme Throbbing Pain

If you are suffering with an extremely painful tooth, you may need to ring the emergency number for your dentist and schedule an appointment for the next day (where possible). This is especially important if you can see that your face is swollen, because it means that you have developed an infection or abscess. It must be treated or you may start to feel poorly.

Pain Only When Eating

If you develop toothache only when eating, the problem is likely to be tooth decay or a dental fracture. Once again, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as you can. This type of pain can usually be controlled with over the counter medication, but you do not want to wait too long before your mouth examined.

Pain at the Back of the Jaw

This type of pain is not as common as the rest, because it usually signifies an impacted wisdom tooth and they are not something that happens for everybody. It can be pretty frustrating to learn that you have problem wisdom teeth (some people develop them without any pain or complications), but you still have to get them examined. If left untreated, they will only cause more pain in the future.

Knowing How to Respond to Toothache

Generally speaking, if your toothache is intermittent and seems to come and go, you can probably get away with not rushing out immediately for a dental exam. However, you must schedule an appointment for some time in the near future. On the other hand, if you have persistent and intense pain, you really do need to be urgently examined by a dentist.

The pain associated with tooth decay is very common and it has some identifying features. For example, ask yourself if the pain is always the same or does it change in intensity throughout the day? With tooth decay, it is often observed that the pain worsens in the morning and in the evening. It is also likely to flare up when you eat hard foods.

At your dental appointment, the specialist will use one or several techniques to diagnose the problem. In most cases, this takes a matter of seconds. If you do have a severely decayed tooth, for example, it will usually be fairly evident as soon as the dentist peers in. It can be a little trickier to identify things like root infections, so there may be some prolonged touching and contact with the gums and teeth.

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Pennsylvania Dental Group

Call: (215) 387-0883
3700 Market Street, Suite 101
Philadelphia, PA 19104


Call: (215) 545-6334
1740 South Street, Suite 504
Philadelphia, PA 19146

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