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Toothache Overview (cont.)

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What are the signs and symptoms of a toothache?

A toothache is usually described as a dull, intense pain that hits a nerve. Description of pain symptoms may include, dull vs. sharp, spontaneous vs. stimulated, constant vs. occasional, and brief vs. lingering.

Additional symptoms may include headache, earache, fever, bad taste or odor in the mouth, or swelling near the tooth.

How is a toothache diagnosed?

The dentist performs a series of diagnostic tests along with dental X-rays to determine the origin of a toothache. These tests try to mimic what may be causing the pain such as cold stimuli, biting/chewing pressure, and finger pressure on the gums.

Sometimes, the cause of a toothache may come from somewhere different than where pain is actually felt. This is called “referred pain.” In these situations, the diagnostic dental tests are particularly important in finding out where the problem lies.

What is the treatment for a toothache?

Treatment for a toothache depends on the origin. For a shallow cavity on a tooth, the decay is removed and a filling is placed to seal the tooth. If the cavity is very deep and gets into the pulp, "root canal treatment" is performed because the pulp has been exposed and infected with bacteria. This procedure essentially removes all the vital contents of the tooth (nerves and blood vessels) and seals the inner aspects of the tooth (root canal system) with an inert filling material. Root canal treatment along with antibiotic therapy is required for an abscessed tooth that has very localized infection. If the infection has become widespread, antibiotic therapy and additional steps may be needed to properly drain the infection. Sometimes extraction of the tooth may be required if the tooth or surrounding gum and bone are too damaged.

For tooth fractures or “cracked tooth syndrome” situations, a dental crown is usually used. A crown will replace missing tooth structure or it will help protect the weakened tooth from further breakdown and sensitivity.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/1/2013

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