A toothache is pain that is felt in the mouth or jaw from a problem with one or more teeth or the gums. Sensitivity or pain typically moves along the nerves in the center of the tooth, known as the pulp.

A toothache may be caused by:

  • Dental decay. Bacteria and other organisms, often present in plaque that forms on the teeth, can result in tooth decay. Pain from decay may not develop until the late stages.
  • Infection around the tooth.
  • An impacted tooth. A tooth that does not break through the skin can cause pain and gum inflammation.
  • Gum disease. Receding gums or unhealthy gums can lead to pain in and around the teeth.
  • An injury to the pulp. Extreme sensitivity to temperatures or sweet or sour tastes can occur when the pulp has been injured or exposed by wear or the loss of a filling.

Although it is not as common, a toothache can be caused by a problem not related to the teeth, such as a sinus infection, shingles, or cluster headaches.

A toothache should be evaluated by a dentist right away to determine the cause of the problem and prevent the tooth from dying.

Current as of: November 14, 2014

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine