As with anything else in the body, pain is an indicator that something is wrong. It usually happens when a condition has been going on for some time and just hadn't made itself evident yet.
This is especially true with dental pain.
Most all of us have experienced teeth being sensitive to cold. This can occur following a dental procedure, new tooth decay, or it can be a chronic condition due to a recession of the gum tissue.
The chronic kind of pain is because the root surface not covered in enamel is exposed to the cold. This type of pain usually does not escalate into worse pain and is treated topically with fluoride. It also goes away when the cold is removed. It's necessary to find out the cause.
When a tooth hurts on its own, it is usually due to one of three processes. If it is a throbbing type of pain, this generally indicates that the live tissue within the tooth, the pulp, is inflamed.
It can be due to the bite, a previous dental restoration, or undiagnosed decay deep into the tooth. This type usually does not go away and it would be necessary to see a dentist for treatment.
Often times the pain can start as throbbing or an ache that comes and goes. This is actually a severe situation that can end in excruciating pain, with possible swelling. These are characteristics of a dental infection, which is a very dangerous situation for your body.
Due the nature of the pain coming and going, oftentimes patients are fooled into thinking the issue will go away when the pain subsides. As it gets really severe, the pain can seem to go away for a period of time only to return to a constant, extremely painful situation.
Patients often report a pain radiating away from the tooth where it started. This is characteristic of an infection as well. It can even demonstrate "referred" pain, in which the problem tooth is on one arch and pain is experienced in the opposing arch.
The good news is that with these painful infections, relief can be found temporarily with antibiotics therapy. The warning is that when the antibiotic therapy ends, the pain will return until the cause is eliminated.
Sometimes this will provide no relief and can be accompanied with moderate to severe swelling of the face. When this happens, a trip to the ER could be necessary, especially if after office hours, on weekends or holidays.
This is why it is encouraged to not wait until it hurts, so as to avoid some of these more drastic measures.
James G. Jenkins, D.M.D. is the owner of Bluffton Dental Care in Bluffton.