A painful tooth is an indicator that something is seriously wrong. This is usually a cavity (technically called dental caries) and cavities are the second most common disease among Americans (next to the also very common cold). Virtually every American child has had multiple cavities and at any given time, over half of adults report having one in the prior six months.
This is the result of not brushing and flossing adequately, which allows bacteria to collect around the food and beverage particles and forming a sticky film called plaque (which quickly hardens into tartar). This gradually eats away at the enamel, the hard outside surface of the tooth and may penetrate the next protective layer, the dentin, before reaching the soft tissue at the core.
From childhood experience, virtually everyone knows that cavities need to be scraped out as soon as possible and then the hole is filled in with a “filling,” usually a neutral composite resin material that is tooth-colored. Cavities can go from mildly aching and sensitive to very painful quickly, so set an appointment as soon as possible when you suspect you have one. You can manage the ache meantime with an OTC pain reliever (or the traditional remedy of putting clove oil on the area), but if it is an emergency, go to an urgent care center.
Periodontal disease (gum infections) are also the result of inadequate brushing and flossing habits (you should brush after breakfast for two minutes and then again after dinner, when you also floss). You also need to have a professional cleaning from your dental hygienist at least twice a year, since she has the tools and techniques to remove the bacteria film (plaque, called tartar in its hardened form) far more thoroughly than anyone can do for themselves. If this is not enough to stop the infection, you may need to have your dentist clean below the gums. Untreated, gum disease will lead to the loss of the tooth. Periodontal bacteria also raise the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
Infected Tooth Roots
Another pain you can’t ignore can come from the infected roots of a tooth. This can be severely painful and needs immediate attention by having the root canals cleaned out and neutral material put into the canals to prevent another infection. The procedure itself is not painful because the area will be anesthetized, yet it is often incorrectly implied that it is by the common phrase “I’d rather have a root canal,” confusing the infection with the solution.
Wisdom teeth are the very last of the molars, the teeth at the back of both upper and lower arches, which come in during the teen years, often in a way that crowds the other permanent teeth. Not only can this be painful, but the crowding can lead to difficulty cleaning the other teeth, resulting in gum disease. If other teeth are crowded, consult with your dentist about improving the evenness of your bite with an orthodontic Invisalign treatment.