The #1 Most Common Type of Tooth Pain

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Video Transcript

Hi, Dr. B here of What is the most common type of tooth pain? It’s a good question. I have been in practice for 25 years and most people come in with a certain type of tooth pain, which I am going to describe to you now.

The symptoms are a slight non-lingering sensitivity to cold, hot coffee, ice cream, or cold water. If you live someplace cold, even breathing in cold air can trigger the pain. And for a while, your teeth ache, and it’s very hard to describe where it is. The pain may be on one side, but not necessarily on one tooth. And sometimes, rarely, the pain is spontaneous. But, it always has to be cold air or something that elicits a response. And it’s never really brought on when you are biting.

If I hear these symptoms from a patient, the first question I ask is: “What happens when you do something very sweet?” If the patient says, “Oh yeah, it hurts,” then that right away, typically, indicates that this is the kind of pain that we are going to talk about today—and it’s called root pain. Root pain is caused when the root of the tooth gets exposed.

tooth anatomy

The good news is that this pain usually does not mean a deep cavity. It’s not the pulp under attack by a wave of bacteria coming in and infecting the pulp.

What Causes Root Pain?

A lot of us by age 30 or 35 have been grinding our teeth so much that the sides, the base of the tooth where it meets the gum line—the side, facial, cheek side of the tooth—has worn away. It’s chipped away from all those vertical forces from the opposing teeth.

And so the sides of the tooth start breaking off like a calving glacier. And that area becomes very sensitive because it is exposed dentin. Sometimes the gum will recede and the root becomes exposed. And the root is always a little bit more thermally sensitive—and also, sugar sensitive.

So, if you eat something sweet, if you are hot and cold sensitive and it gives you a little shiver or a little pain, but it recovers quickly and it goes away, if you don’t have any spontaneous pain, you’re just sitting there doing nothing, your mouth is closed, you are not breathing in cold air and you don’t get spontaneous pain, then it’s likely exposed root pain. I call it dentin pain. It’s the exposed root sensitive to the external ambient temperatures and environmental factors.

What to Do About Root Pain

So typically, that’s something you don’t do too much about. You would use a very strong fluoride paste. You would stop over-brushing. We have talked about that in previous videos. You would replace your toothbrush often. Make sure you are using a soft one. You would stop using that back and forth sawing motion and again the fluoride is very important.

But the most important thing is to find out if that, in fact, is what’s causing the pain—and of course, you have to see your dentist to do that—if that is what you are experiencing, the news probably will be good. Find out. It’s called root pain or dentin pain.

There are other forms of tooth pain and we will talk more about that in the future. And of course, those that have much more serious consequences. But I hope that answers that question of what the most common pain is. Most people come in, and I’m happy to give them the good news. It’s nothing serious. 

Thanks for watching.

Dr. Mark Burhenne

Learn More: How to Stop a Toothache and Get Out of Pain Fast