If your gums or teeth have suddenly become painful, you’re not alone. According to the National Health Interview Survey, nearly 30% of American adults experience pain in their gums, teeth, and jaw annually. Two of the most common causes involve tooth sensitivity and cracked teeth. Luckily, most cases of sudden toothache are highly treatable by a dental specialist.
Here are eight potential reasons why your teeth may be painful or sensitive, and when to visit a specialist.
1. Exposure to extreme heat or cold Your teeth may become sensitive due to worn enamel and exposed nerves. When you consume foods or enjoy beverages with an extremely high or low temperature, you may experience a sudden, intense spike of pain.
2. Receding gums Gums are the layer of connective tissue that covers and surrounds the roots of your teeth and helps protect their nerve endings. With age, your gum line typically starts to wear, leading to gum recession. This process makes the roots of your teeth vulnerable to infections and gum disease. If your teeth have become more sensitive than usual, receding gums may be the culprit.
3. Enamel erosion It’s estimated that nearly 12% of adults have some type of dentin hypersensitivity that results in soreness or discomfort while eating. This type of sensitivity may occur due to improper brushing or flossing techniques, tobacco use, hormonal changes, and a highly-acidic diet. Due to these factors, your tooth enamel may start to wear away. Enamel erosion causes irreversible damage to your teeth and leads to an intense, stabbing pain when you eat certain foods.
4. Tooth decay Tooth decay can be a culprit of sudden discomfort and pain in your teeth. Tooth decay involves several stages. At first, a colorless and sticky film may build up on your teeth, exposing them to acids produced by bacteria. Then, your enamel will start to slowly break down, becoming discolored and putting you at risk of cavities. If the process of tooth decay continues, you will start experiencing sudden sensitivity due to damaged dentin and exposed tooth nerves.
5. Teeth grinding or clenching Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can lead to chronic tooth sensitivity, as they wear away your enamel and expose the inner structure of your teeth. Most people clench and grind their teeth unconsciously while sleeping. And some factors including stressful lifestyle and sleep apnea can cause you to increase this habit without even realizing it, resulting in tooth sensitivity.
6. Teeth whitening problems Trying to whiten your teeth with bleaching strips and gels, or undergoing a professional teeth whitening treatment can put you at increased risk of tooth sensitivity. Pain and discomfort in your teeth that are caused by teeth whitening are typically short-term and will often subside if you stop using bleaching products.
7. Cracked tooth or crown A tooth or a crown that is cracked can lead to toothache and sensitivity. In some cases, your tooth can be cracked ever so slightly, that it will cause pain but will be nearly impossible to spot. If untreated, a cracked tooth or a crown can get extremely sensitive, creating difficulties with food consumption and putting you at risk of an abscess.
8. Sinusitis Sinus infection typically causes mucus accumulation that leads to inflammation in the lower sinuses and puts excessive pressure on the nerves in the upper teeth. This can make your teeth hurt when you’re eating or drinking anything hot or cold.
The bottom line If you experience toothache or sensitivity due to any of the aforementioned reasons, consult a dental specialist to start timely treatment and prevent further damage to your dental health.