A toothache is a pain in or around a tooth that may be caused by:

  • Tooth decay
  • Abscessed tooth (a bacterial infection inside the center of the tooth)
  • Tooth fracture
  • A damaged filling
  • Repetitive motions, such as chewing gum or grinding teeth or clenching.
  • Infected gums
  • Eruption or removal of a tooth (eg wisdom teeth)

Symptoms may include:

  • Tooth pain that may be sharp, throbbing, or constant. In some people, pain results only when pressure is applied to the tooth.
  • Swelling around the tooth
  • Fever or headache
  • Foul-tasting drainage from the infected tooth
  • A bad odor from the mouth

When should I see a dentist?

See your dentist as soon as possible if:

  • You have a toothache that lasts longer than 1 or 2 days
  • Your toothache is severe
  • You have a fever, earache, or pain when you open your mouth wide
  • You experience swelling in the mouth or face

Proper diagnosis and treatment of dental infections is important to prevent its spread to other parts of the face and skull and possibly even to the bloodstream.

What happens during the dental appointment?

Your dentist will review your medical history and do a physical exam. Your mouth, teeth, gums, jaws, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose, and neck will be examined. X-rays may be taken as well as other tests to help determine the cause of your toothache. Your dentist will ask you questions about your pain, such as when did it start, how severe is it, where is the pain located, what makes the pain worse, and what makes it better.

What treatments are available?

Treatment is based on the cause of your toothache. If a cavity is causing the toothache, your dentist will fill the cavity or possibly take the tooth out, if necessary. A root canal may be needed if the cause of the toothache is an infection of the tooth’s nerve. (Bacteria that have worked their way into the inner space of the root of the tooth cause such an infection.) An antibiotic may be prescribed if there is fever or swelling of the jaw. A small piece of food (like a popcorn hull) can get stuck under the gums causing an infection. In this instance, a deep cleaning may be performed or recommended followed by further periodontal therapy if necessary.

How can toothaches be prevented?

Since most toothaches are the result of tooth decay, following good oral hygiene practices can prevent toothaches. Good oral hygiene practices consist of brushing regularly with a fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing at least once a day, and seeing your dentist twice a year for professional cleaning. In addition to these practices, eat foods low in sugar and ask your dentist about sealants and fluoride applications.


  • What Causes a Toothache? Academy of General Dentistry. www.knowyourteeth.com. Accessed 7/1/2012.
  • Toothaches, U.S. National Library of Medicine. www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed 7/1/2012.
  • Dental Cavities. U.S. National Library of Medicine. www.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed 7/1/2012.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/12/2012...#10957