My Teeth Hurt! What’s Going On?

Have you often found yourself using the all-too-common phrase “my teeth hurt”? If you’ve got a toothache then you know how persistent the pain can be—sometimes to the point that it controls your life. Everything from smiling, to talking, to accepting a drink at a friend’s house can be governed by the state in which your teeth are. If you’re curious as to what might be hurting your teeth, then take a look at some of the conditions below; all of which are well known reasons why dentists often hear the expression, “My teeth hurt!”


From quite a young age most of us are warned that failing to brush, floss, and rinse our teeth regularly will result in the formation of cavities. Pshh! Well, turns out it’s absolutely true. The inside of your mouth is filled to the brim with bacteria which feed off of the elements in the food that you eat. If you don’t brush enough or if you’re don’t clean all of the nooks and crannies between your teeth, these bacteria can flourish there. This may not sound too bad at first, especially when considering that bacteria don’t feed off of teeth, but they do transform the sugars and starches in your food into acid. When this acid gets together with food particles and saliva they form a substance called plaque which is quite sticky to teeth. The acid found in the plaque quickly starts to break down the outer layer of a tooth, called enamel, which creates a hole which we call a cavity.

A small cavity usually won’t cause pain but a larger one can penetrate through the outer enamel and dentin layers and into the pulp where it exposes the nerves of the tooth to food particles, hot and cold temperatures, and other pain triggers. If you are able to inspect the tooth—a flashlight and a mirror can help you—then check for any spots that are dark, either brown, grey, or black in color. If areas like this are present on your teeth then you probably have a cavity. You can use over the counter numbing medicine like Orajel, but the only way to rectify the problem is to see a dentist. He or she should be able to grind away the decayed pieces of tooth and create a filling. This is a normal procedure that usually only takes about half an hour.


An abscess is usually the result of a cavity that has been left to grow and penetrate through to the pulp of the tooth. As a result, bacteria can find its way into around the area and down into the gums where it leads to the formation of a puss pocket. This pocket can turn a quick inhale of cool air into a sharp, knife-like pain trigger. If there isn’t too much of the natural tooth missing above the gum line then it would be worth trying to save the tooth, as the options at this point are basically to have a root canal done or to remove the tooth altogether.

During a root canal procedure the dentist will drill away the center of the tooth, which is usually the decayed portion anyway. This will expose the pulp and the nerves of the tooth. You can think of a root canal procedure as a way to clear out most of the inner parts of the tooth so that it is hollow. The dentist will then pop the abscess pocket and drain out all of the fluid. After the fluid has been drained the dentist will fill the tooth with high quality filling material all the way up to the top of the tooth and sculpt a make-shift biting surface. You may be instructed to return at a later date to have a crown fitted over the tooth as a means to provide extra support and protection of the thin layer of natural tooth that remains.


Gingivitis is another cause of tooth pain. If your partner has told you that they’re tired of hearing you say “my teeth hurt,” then you’ve probably been complaining about tooth pain for a while. Gingivitis, or gum disease, is a condition that usually develops over a long term of gum irritation and exposure to plaque buildup. If plaque is not removed regularly from the area where the teeth and gums meet, it can turn to a hard substance called tartar. It will then cause the flames to become irritated and eventually inflamed. Symptoms of such include redness, puffiness, tenderness, and bleeding from the gums even when you take care to brush gently. Gingivitis can cause the gums to appear a dark red or even purple-ish color and the texture will look abnormally shiny and tight. The pain typically occurs when the gums are touched, but the source of the pain can sometimes be confused with a toothache.

After an examination, your dentist will be able to confirm whether you have gingivitis. The first course of treatment is to reduce the inflammation by professionally cleaning the teeth to remove tartar buildup. You may be given instructions to take anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen or ibuprofen as well as strict order to brush your teeth two times each day. Your dentist will also probably prescribe a powerful antibacterial mouth wash to help prevent bacterial buildup in your mouth.

The next time you hear yourself mutter the phrase “my teeth hurt,” consider going to the dentist for an exam. Unless you suffer from TMJ disorder, bruxism (teeth grinding), or heavy sinus pressure, you probably won’t find relief from your toothache without seeking a dentist for treatment.