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What Causes Tooth Pain, and How Is It Treated?

root canal-fillings-endodontist-tooth pain
root canal-fillings-endodontist-tooth pain

If you’ve ever had a toothache — that dull or sharp, sometimes throbbing, pain that can seem to appear overnight — you know how debilitating it can be.

Don’t ignore the pain, advised Stefan Zweig, D.D.S., president of the American Association of Endodontists. 

“Patients who are experiencing tooth pain should see their dentists immediately to diagnose the source of the pain,” Zweig said. Delay, and you may increase your risk for advanced and potentially life-threatening dental issues. “What starts as minor pain and discomfort, which can be easily handled by your dentist, can rapidly become severe, debilitating pain and even infection. Dental infections can affect your general health and well-being. Pain can affect your productivity and ability to perform your job.”

Getting to the root of tooth pain

There’s no single cause of tooth pain. However, a common cause of tooth pain these days, Zweig explained, is grinding, which often happens during sleep. In this case, teeth grinding is subconscious, but you may also or alternatively grind your teeth consciously during the day.

Grinding can make your teeth sore and sensitive. The good news is these effects are preventable by wearing a mouthguard or night guard. “When grinding progresses, patients can crack teeth, which can cause even greater pain and necessitate more complicated dental procedures,” Zweig explained.

Another potential cause of tooth pain is gum recession, which may result from poor oral hygiene. According to the Cleveland Clinic, practicing proper oral hygiene includes brushing your teeth two times per day with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily, in addition to attending regular dental appointments.

“In most cases,” Zweig said, “tooth pain results when the tissue inside your tooth (the pulp) becomes inflamed or infected, usually because of tooth decay or deep fillings. It is important to have regular dental checkups to find small cavities, which can be routinely filled. When cavities and decay get larger, they will affect the pulp, sometimes necessitating a root canal, which removes the pulp from the tooth.”

Treating tooth pain 

To have your tooth pain investigated, call your dentist and schedule an appointment. If your tooth pain is advanced, you may require root canal therapy, which endodontists perform. If you would benefit from seeing an endodontist, your dentist will let you know.

Endodontists are experts at treating tooth pain with root canal treatment, and they can help save your teeth, Zweig said. “Saving natural teeth is important as it maintains your ability to chew and to have a good appearance.”

To find an endodontist in your area, ask your dentist for a referral or visit

Again, getting prompt treatment is key for preventing an advanced dental issue. Zweig acknowledged some patients may have dental anxiety but offered assurance that endodontists are trained to make root canal procedures as comfortable as possible. “Most root canals are performed in the complete absence of pain, as endodontic practitioners are well versed in the use and administration of effective local anesthetics,” Zweig said. “Your endodontist can also explain to you what he or she is doing and what to expect in advance, thus alleviating dental anxiety.”

If your dental anxiety is severe, the endodontist may use nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas, or other relatively safe oral medications. Your endodontist may alternatively suggest an anesthesiologist to administer general anesthesia or another type of sedation.

Making oral hygiene a priority

Remember: Preventing tooth pain in the first place is in your best interest. Zweig offered the following tips:

  • Brush and floss your teeth daily, and work with your dentist to create a personalized oral hygiene routine for your individual dental health
  • Schedule regular visits with your dentist, including dental cleanings every six months and annual checkups and x-rays
  • Explore dental tools and devices that can enhance your dental care, such as floss holders, the Waterpik, and electric or mechanical toothbrushes

And of course, if you’re facing tooth pain, don’t sit in discomfort; get professional help. “The important fact to remember is that when it comes to your teeth, no incident of pain is normal,” Zweig said, “but rather an indicator that there is a problem that requires attention.”

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