Tooth pain. It’s bad, right? Some women have even said that a severe toothache is worse than childbirth. But you know those times when your tooth hurts for several hours, or even a day or so, and then the pain kinda clears up and goes away? What’s the deal there? Did your body heal itself? (Spoiler alert: a tooth is the only part of the human body that is unable to heal itself!) Should you always ignore your tooth pain and see if it goes away? Let’s delve into this topic and see if we can gain some clarity!

First, it’s important to try to identify the cause of the pain. There are a variety of causes for tooth pain. For example, tooth pain can be one of the side effects of TMJ. Or, if you have a severe sinus infection, you may experience some tooth pain due to sinus pressure in one or several teeth in your upper jaw. Tooth pain in your lower jaw could even be linked to heart disease. And tooth pain combined with chronic bad breath may be an indicator of gum disease.

All that to say, tooth pain can be a symptom of some other health issue that needs to be addressed!

But the most common culprit when it comes to tooth pain is a cavity. When your tooth enamel is worn through, the nerve pulp is exposed to air, food particles, heat, cold, and so on, resulting in sensitivity or pain. When your toothache is due to a cavity, it’s quite likely that if you wait long enough, the pain will go away. This may seem like a good sign, but it actually means that the nerve died. Teeth nerves are fragile and, under extended attack from bacteria, are easily damaged or killed.

Once the nerve dies, you’ll be pain-free for a while, but that’s usually the calm before the storm. Ignoring a cavity usually opens the door to greater complications.

An abscess is the evil big brother of a cavity. Once the cavity has invaded the tooth and killed the nerve, the abscess is free to form. An abscess is a pocket of infection that settles into a tooth. As with any infection anywhere in the body, the sooner you can get an abscess treated, the better. You don’t want that infection spreading to the jaw, brain, or bloodstream!

Basically, the moral of the story is: Don’t ignore tooth pain!

Mark Booth, DDS, group practice leader and assistant professor at the University of the Pacific’s Arthur A. Dugani School of Dentistry, notes, “Unfortunately, our teeth don’t tell us when they are healthy. They typically only tell us when something is wrong. Any sign of pain is not a good sign, and the sooner it’s evaluated, the better off it will be for the patient and the treatment. The longer typically you delay treatment, the more difficult and complicated, as well as expensive, it becomes.”

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