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Understanding The Background Of Severe Tooth Pain

Posted by Dr. Mark Mann

Oct 2, 2015 2:00:00 PM

severe tooth pain 28774961_sSevere tooth pain can be caused by a number of factors, including unchecked tooth decay, an abscessed tooth or recent injury.

Oftentimes the pain associated with unchecked tooth decay or an infection is bad enough - when you consider that many patients aren't entirely sure what's causing severe tooth pain in the first place, the pain seems that much worse. 

Background of Severe Tooth Pain 

People experiencing a sensitivity to hot or cold beverages as well as an intensification of tooth pain when they bite down on food might be suffering from tooth decay or a dental abscess.

The important thing to bear in mind is that tooth pain is generally a protective response by the body and meant to prevent further damage. In other words, the tooth pain itself is the body's way of telling you that something isn't right. 


For easy reference throughout this blog post, check out this basic diagram of a tooth's structure

  • Hot or Cold Sensitivity 

A temporary sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages could indicate that patients are suffering from minor tooth decay or a loose filling. It could also highlight the beginnings of gum recession and an exposed root surface. 

Ensuring that harmful bacterial plaque is scraped off the root surface with daily brushings is an essential first step for most patients to take in order to avoid this kind of tooth pain.

Consider a dental consultation when...

More acute tooth pain associated with sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages might mean that the patient is experiencing gum recession.

In moderate cases of gum recession the gum tissue that normally hugs the tooth forms a pocket between the gum line and the tooth structure - thus creating an opening for harmful bacteria to wreak havoc. 


Unfortunately, this can eventually turn into almost unbearable tooth pain as bacteria erodes more and more of the gum tissue and even causes disintegration in the supporting bone structure itself.

Pocket depth reduction surgery - a procedure that reduces the size of the bacteria-laden pockets between the gum line and tooth structure along with cleaning and gum restructuring - can improve a patient's appearance and significantly reduce their tooth pain. 

  • Acute pain when biting down 

Sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages is usually perceived as only moderately painful whereas a more acute pain when biting down on food could translate to a more serious problem requiring an immediate diagnosis from a dentist. 

Acute pain when biting down on food might mean that the pulp tissue underneath patients' enamel and dentin is damaged. 

Consider a dental consultation when...

If the pulp in a patient's root is actually infected, then a dentist might have to come in and replace the infected pulp with an inert material (i.e., a root canal) to bring the situation under control. Fortunately, advances in sedation dentistry make this once-harrowing procedure painless and very manageable. 


That said, acute pain when biting down might only mean that a patient has a loose filling or moderate tooth decay. This is why a consultation with your dentist is such an important step to take at the outset of pain: diagnosing tooth pain when it's moderate can keep the factors causing it from spiraling out of control into severe tooth pain.  

  • Lingering tooth pain 

When patients are suffering from a lingering, acute pain lasting a minute or more after consuming hot or cold foods and beverages, that can be symptomatic of damage to your tooth's pulp.

Consider a dental consultation when...

This kind of tooth pain, unlike a mild hot or cold sensitivity, is probably indicative of a more serious problem. Depending on the duration and severity of the tooth pain, the pulp may be severely damaged due to injury or decay.

If the pulp turns out to be damaged, patients might be referred to an endodontist to remove the damaged pulp and disinfect the root canal. With the help of topical and oral sedatives, a root canal, if deemed necessary, can give patients freedom from lingering pain. 

  • Acute tooth pain plus pressure 

A constant throbbing tooth pain accompanied by pressure could mean that a patient has one or more infections (abscesses), which threaten to infect other areas.

Consider a dental consultation when...

This kind of pain calls for immediate intervention - the more gum swelling that's present, the more likely it is that an abscess has occurred and is in danger of spreading to the enveloping bone and tissue. 

Have you recently experienced any of the tooth pain symptoms described above?

Topics: Dental Emergency Services

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