My Tooth Hurts: A Guide to Self-Diagnosis

20 Aug


“My tooth hurts.  It must be a cavity!”  Very common phrase heard in a dental office.  Many people believe that if a tooth hurts, it must mean they have a cavity and, they also believe the reverse, that if a tooth doesn’t hurt, then it’s totally fine.  That cannot be further from the truth however, and this guide will help you understand what is going on in your own mouth.


Cavities do NOT cause Pain

Cavities don’t hurt.  When your tooth hurts, it is most likely not a cavity; at least not the kind that can be “filled” easily.  When a dentist finds a cavity on an x-ray, or visually when looking at your teeth, you will not likely have any symptoms at that point.  A small to medium sized cavity has no discomfort (though some people can have sweet sensitivity).  Waiting for pain to occur before going to the dentist is a recipe for disaster as cavities that are easily filled by a regular filling will not be felt by their owner until they have progressed to something much bigger.


When your tooth hurts, it’s usually more than a simple cavity

The most common reason for your tooth hurting is an infection, or a cavity that has gotten so large it has entered the root canal where bacteria will then grow fast and cause pain.  Waiting on fixing a diagnosed cavity until it hurts is not recommended because by the time it does hurt, it will no longer be a simple filling, rather you will likely need a root canal treatment or an extraction.  If your dentist tells you that you have cavities, and your first thought is “sure, I think I will just wait until I actually have some pain before I fix them”, I would strongly advise you to rethink that thought.  Fillings are much less expensive and much easier to do than root canals or extractions so do yourself a favour and fix the cavities BEFORE they become a real problem and cost you thousands of dollars to restore.


Other causes of tooth pain

There are, of course, other causes for why your tooth hurts.  The second most common one is root sensitivity.  If you have gum recession, the root of the tooth gets exposed and that can get very sensitive when eating cold foods.  If you grind your teeth, you can get sensitivity because you have over-worked your teeth all night so they can be sensitive and hurt when eating or drinking hot or cold foods.  A small chip or fracture can become sensitive if enamel is missing as a result.  A gum infection, especially if you got food like a popcorn kernel stuck, can be quite painful if left untreated.  Even a sinus infection can cause severe pain in your upper teeth so if you are very congested or have a cold, you can feel that your teeth hurt.


Treatments for other types of  tooth pain

When you feel your tooth hurt, don’t leave it to get worse.  If it’s not an infection, and it’s sensitivity from one of the other causes, the solution is usually very simple.  If it’s root sensitivity, your dentist will likely recommend a sensitivity toothpaste or fill the areas that are sensitive.  If you grind, he/she will probably recommend a nightguard.  If it’s a gum infection, a good professional cleaning is usually all that’s needed.  But the best way to approach any kind of tooth problems is to fix them when they are first diagnosed by your dentist rather than waiting till your “tooth hurts”.  It will be much easier early on, and it will save you lots of money in the end.


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