Why do my teeth hurt?

young woman with pain in head and teeth“My teeth hurt.”  “It’s like a throb that won’t go away.” “The pain in my mouth just pounds and pounds.” There are a lot of ways to describe when your teeth hurt, and a lot of reasons why your teeth (or tooth) could be hurting. We listed some of the most common reasons your teeth can be hurting—and how you can find some relief.

Sinus Infection

What it is: A sinus infection is just what it says: an infection of your sinuses.  Because your sinuses are located so close to your teeth, one of the most common symptoms is painful teeth.  Other symptoms include sinus pressure, congestion, fever, tiredness, and coughing.

What to do:  Most people suffering from sinusitis (sinus infection) can find relief with over-the-counter medications to decrease the inflammation and decrease the pain.  If the sinus infection worsens, contact a doctor who can prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection.


What it is: A cavity is really the product of a perfect storm involving bacteria, food, saliva and the resulting acid. Bacteria in your mouth combine with food that sits on your teeth and creates plaque which includes acid. The acid in the plaque eats holes in your tooth (tooth decay) called cavities.  You can usually tell if you have a cavity because of pain, sensitive teeth, or a hole in your teeth.

What to do: Schedule an appointment with the dentist.  A dentist can examine your teeth and tell you if you have a cavity.  Pain relievers can help with the pain, but make sure that not feeling the pain doesn’t delay your visit to the professionals and that you follow all label directions.


What it is: A toothache is pain in the tooth that occurs because of several different reasons.  Toothaches can be very painful.

What to do: DO NOT apply heat to your mouth as treatment, even if it brings temporary relief, as heat can cause swelling and make your toothache worse. Instead, apply an ice pack on the side of the toothache. Avoid anything (i.e. food, vibration, pressure to that side of your mouth, etc.) that worsens the pain. Use over-the-counter medications to treat your toothache, but be careful to follow directions—and only use medications that won’t counteract anything you take on a regular basis.  Contact a dentist as soon as possible to get an appointment and treatment that can relieve the pain.

Gum disease

What it is:  Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums that hold your teeth in place.  Other symptoms of gum disease include red, swollen gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, bad breath, sores in your mouth, and a receding gum line.

What to do:  Schedule an appointment with the dentist.  Your dentist can recommend treatments that can help keep your gum disease from progressing.

Sensitive teeth

What it is: Sensitive teeth are caused when dentin, the material that makes up the majority of the interior of your tooth, is exposed and becomes irritated or sensitive.  The result is a painful condition that tends to flare up when eating hot or cold foods.

What to do:  Visit your dentist to find out if your sensitive teeth could be caused by a number of other conditions, such as a damaged tooth, loss of tooth enamel, teeth grinding, or receding gums.  Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, which can help alleviate your pain.  Don’t brush too hard, and do circular strokes when brushing.  Ask your dentist at your next appointment for recommendations and samples of sensitivity toothpastes and fluoridated products that can help.  Avoid acidic foods, extremely sweet foods, very hot or cold foods—whatever foods and drinks causes the pain.

Injured tooth

What it is: A cracked or chipped tooth may not hurt at all.  However, whenever the nerves are damaged or exposed, an injured tooth can be a source of pain or discomfort.

What to do:  Rinse your mouth with warm water.  Hold a cold compress to your cheek to lessen the pain and swelling.  If you have any pain, you can take an over-the-counter pain medication if there is pain, but make sure to follow the label directions. Avoid biting down on the tooth until you can schedule an appointment with your dentist.