Toothache is one of the most common causes for dental visits in Australia. According to a recent study, 1 in 7 Australians has had a toothache and it affects around 15 % of the Australian population.

Today, I am going to discuss some symptoms of the most common toothaches and also the possible problems and what to do. Please note those symptoms, possible problems and what to do vary and your problem may not be related with any of the topics below. So, if you have a toothache, please consult your dentist.

Symptom: Sensitivity to hot or cold foods and liquids.

Possible problem: If discomfort lasts only moments, sensitivity generally does not signal a serious problem. It may be caused by; a small area of decay in a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root surface resulting from gum recession and possibly toothbrush abrasion.

What to do: If a root surface is sensitive, keep it clean and free of dental bacterial plaque. Use a soft toothbrush, cleaning very gently at the gum line, and brush no more than twice daily. Try using fluoride-containing toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. You can even try using toothpaste like an ointment, rubbing it into the root surface for ten minutes or so at a time. If the sensitivity continues, see your dentist. If the problem is a small decay or a loose filling, it is likely that a new filling will be required for both options.

Symptom: Sharp pain when biting down on food.

Possible problem: Decay, a loose filling and/or a cracked tooth are possible causes.

What to do: See a dentist to diagnose the problem before the pain worsens. Decay will need to be removed, and a loose filling replaced by your dentist. If the pain is caused by pulp tissue (nerve) damage, your dentist may discuss with you a root canal treatment to clean out the damaged pulp, disinfect the root canal and fill and seal the remaining space to save the tooth. The other option is a dental extraction. A cracked tooth may be difficult to treat not only if it involves the pulp, but also depending on the location and depth of the crack. Dental cracks are very unpredictable.

Symptom: Lingering pain after eating hot or cold foods and liquids.

Possible problem: This probably means the pulp is inflamed and/or dying, and may be irreversibly damaged usually as a result of deep decay, physical trauma or a deep crack.

What to do: See your dentist to diagnose the problem before the pain becomes severe due to the development of an abscess. The tooth will likely need root canal treatment to remove the dying or dead pulp tissue to save the tooth or an extraction.
sinus-intrusionSymptom: Dull ache and pressure in the upper teeth and sinus area of one or both sides.

Possible problem: Pain felt in the sinus area of the face is often associated with the upper back teeth because they share the same nerves. The origin of this “referred” pain consequently may be difficult to determine. Therefore, sinus pain can feel like tooth pain and vice versa. That’s why sinus congestion from a cold or flu can cause pain in the upper teeth. Additionally it’s also important to determine if clenching or grinding is a factor, as they too cause similar symptoms.


What to do: See your dentist to find out if the symptoms are dentally related; otherwise, you may need to see your family doctor. However, don’t wait until the pain worsens.

infected-toothSymptom: Acute and constant pain from an area, but difficult to say exactly which tooth is causing the problem.

Possible problem: The pulp tissue inside a tooth is acutely infected, inflamed and dying. This is generally in response to decay coming very close to or entering the nerve.

What to do: See your dentist immediately for a thorough examination. Once the problematic tooth is isolated, a root canal treatment to remove the infected pulp tissue will bring relief while saving the tooth. Untreated, the pain could become worse.
Symptom: Constant severe pain and pressure, swelling of the gum and sensitivity to touch.

Possible problem: A tooth may have an infection/abscess that has spread from the pulp into the surrounding periodontal tissues (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth) and bone.

What to do: See your dentist immediately. A root canal will probably be required. Over-the-counter medications like Panadol and ibuprofen may help minimize symptoms until you are treated.
Don’t wait for the pain to get worse.

Note in the above examples, possible problems and solutions are suggested — but they only provide possible guidelines. In all cases of tooth or jaw pain or discomfort in and around the teeth and jaws, see your dentist as soon as possible for a proper evaluation and treatment. If your pain has a medical component, your dentist will likely refer you to a GP for treatment.

I prefer and advice my patients to focus on prevention rather than wait for a toothache. Prevention is cheaper and less painful than any toothache and you also get to keep your natural teeth which way pay dividends when you are older.

I hope that this information was useful.
If you have any questions or need more information please contact Dr Rene Nobrega via email –

Ow! My Aching Teeth!