Toothache is a type of pain affecting the teeth. It is often described as dull, radiating or throbbing and can range in severity from mild to extremely painful. While there are many possible causes of toothache, dull pain is usually associated with dental cavities or increased sensitivity caused by receding gums. Understanding the nature of dull toothaches can help identify the problem quickly to prevent complications.
Toothache can stem from a variety of causes. Dental caries—also known as cavities—are the most common cause of toothache, according to Cigna. Toothache that is described as dull may also result from receding gums and exposed nerves associated with gum disease. Trauma caused by bruxism (teeth grinding) or facial injury may also play a role. Less frequently, impacted wisdom teeth may trigger pain in the teeth or gums.
Depending on the severity and underlying cause, other symptoms may accompany a toothache. Pain that radiates to the surrounding area is common when tooth decay, gum disease or trauma is severe. In such cases, it may be difficult to locate the exact source of pain.
Pain in the head, neck or jaw is generally more likely to occur when infection is present. Fever and general feelings of malaise may also signal an infection and require immediate medical attention to prevent serious health problems.
Abscess is the most serious complication of untreated toothache. Infectious bacteria that enter through holes in tooth enamel can spread to surrounding teeth and bones, causing extreme pain and deterioration. According to the National Institutes of Health, abscess may lead to life-threatening complications like blood infection, brain abscess and endocarditis—an inflammation of the tissue lining the heart.
Left untreated, dull toothache can also progress to a more severe and persistent type of pain that makes everyday functions like chewing difficult. Increasing sensitivity to stimuli like hot and cold substances may also occur.
The most effective way to prevent toothache is by taking proper care of your teeth and gums. Good oral hygiene practices like daily brushing and flossing help remove harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. Limiting your intake of sugar and having your teeth cleaned every six months by a dentist are also important for promoting good dental health.
Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help treat the pain of toothache. Topical gels containing lidocaine and benzocaine offer temporary relief by numbing the affected area and often begin to work much quicker than systemic pain medications.
If you experience toothache accompanied by fever, jaw pain or sore throat, seek prompt medical attention. These could be signs of a life-threatening infection.