Skip to content

Why do my teeth hurt? 10 reasons why

Dr Rakesh Jivan

Why your teeth might be hurting and what to do about it

A woman holding her jaw due to a toothache with one hand and a cup of coffee in the other
A woman holding her jaw due to a toothache with one hand and a cup of coffee in the other

Many of us experience tooth discomfort or pain from time to time. Whether it starts with a little sensitivity, a dull, continuous ache, or suddenly as a short, sharp pain, any tooth-related pain is difficult to ignore. It's also generally a sign that there’s something not right with a tooth or gums.

10 most common causes for a toothache

1. Worn tooth enamel

This is where the sensitive nerves of the teeth are exposed because the enamel has eroded. Eating or drinking something cold, or hot, can cause a sudden, intense pain.

2. Tooth decay

Decay occurs when a hole forms and damages the hard surface of the tooth. Pain is especially noticeable when eating sweet, hot or cold foods. Left untreated, an infection or abscess can form.

3. Sensitive teeth

When the soft inner layer of the tooth (the dentine) becomes exposed, the nerves in the centre of the tooth react to cold or heat and sweet and sour flavours. During and after teeth whitening, tooth sensitivity is more common.

4. Receding gums

This is where the more sensitive areas of the tooth and root surfaces are exposed. Bacteria can form in pockets around the affected teeth, leading to periodontal disease.

5. A cracked tooth

A fracture (break), a craze (vertical line) or crack running on the inside or the outside of a tooth can cause a toothache. Cracks may affect just a portion of a tooth or the whole tooth and treatment depends on the extent of the crack.

Credit: nib health insurance

6. Tooth grinding or clenching

Many people grind their teeth during their sleep or when they’re stressed.

7. Recent dental work

A toothache is more common for a day or so after having dental work.

8. Sinus infection

Pressure builds within the sinuses from infection. This causes a flow-on effect to the sensitive nerve endings in the teeth.

9. Orthodontic work

A toothache is usually more noticeable for a few days after adjustments to braces and retainers.

10. Impacted wisdom teeth

This can occur when the wisdom teeth have not erupted or cut through the gum but instead, are putting pressure against other teeth.

A man wearing a button up shirt holds his jaw in pain from a toothache

How to prevent toothaches

Here are a few tips to help you prevent tooth-related pain:

  • See your dentist regularly (ideally every six months). Prevention, as well as early detection and treatment of problems, is the best way to prevent a toothache

  • Brush your teeth at least twice each day with a fluoridated toothpaste and floss daily

  • Eat a healthy, nutritious diet which will support your body to stay well and healthy

  • Avoid snacking

  • Drink plain water between meals

  • Counselling for stress-related tooth grinding can also be very helpful

Treatment for toothaches

It’s important not to put off a dental visit if you have a toothache. Early diagnosis and treatment will help ease your pain and may even save your tooth. Treatment for toothaches depends on the cause. Your dentist will need to examine your teeth to diagnose the reason and then recommend the best management.

If your toothache is due to tooth grinding, a purpose-fitted mouth guard could help protect your teeth from pressure damage.

Sometimes the cause for a toothache may be more complex, so a few appointments will be necessary.

Ready to book an appointment with a dentist?

A great place to begin is with your local nib Dental Care Centre which has 11 locations across NSW, ACT, VIC and QLD.

Alternatively, you can search for a dentist near you through nib's First Choice Network. This is a community of health providers who’ve agreed to provide nib members with quality healthcare. We recommend you and your family visit your dentist every six months for a check-up and more regularly if you have a concern.

At nib, we offer a range of Extras covers that include benefits for dental care. If you’re already an nib member, you can check your current policy using member account, opens in a new tab. Alternatively, you can get a quote online in just minutes.

1 / 0

Dr Rakesh Jivan

Dr Rakesh Jivan profile picture

Dr Rakesh Jivan smiling

Dr Rakesh Jivan

Dr Rakesh Jivan is a general dental practitioner with close to two decades of clinical experience in private practice. He is the clinical director for education at Pacific Smiles Group responsible for practitioner support and continuing professional development for all practitioners working from Pacific Smiles Dental & nib Dental Care Centres in NSW, VIC, QLD & the ACT.