While most toothaches are due to decay or infections or other causes local to the tooth, there are cases where a tooth may hurt badly although the cause is not even the tooth. A few years ago the Journal of the American Dental Association estimated that of the millions of root canals performed in the US each year, something like 680 thousand of them are actually done on healthy teeth. These are teeth that are in pain, yet show no signs of decay. But what might the source of the toothache be, if not the tooth? Of the many causes of toothache, two less obvious causes that are gaining more attention (and rightfully so) are sinus infections and TMD.
With a sinus infection, a toothache can occur as a form of referred pain, or due to the spread of the infection. The Maxillary sinus cavity and roots of the teeth of the upper jaw are in very very close proximity to each other. In fact, a sinus infection can lead to an infection in a tooth, and vice versa, and it’s important to determine what is going on and treat the entire problem, not just the tooth. When the lining of the sinuses are inflamed (sinusitis) and there is a build up fluid and mucus that near to the roots of the tooth, that build up of pressure on the sensitive nerves can easily cause pain. Sinusitis toothaches are usually at their worst just after quickly rising to stand after lying down because of the flow of fluids bringing pressure back to the area.
With TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) the culprit seems to be nerve pathways. There are highly sensitive areas in the nerve pathways of the head, neck, and face muscles, called trigger points. Pressure on one of these points causes pain in a different location than the area where the pressure is applied. So pressure in a remote location of the jaw can be felt on a tooth, and conversely, pain originating in a tooth can be felt as jaw or TMJ pain. In cases where TMD could be at play, treating TMD is not just going to help relieve the toothache while avoiding a costly unnecessary dental procedure, it can also help with other pain and disfunction related to the joint disorder… the headaches, neck aches, face or jaw pain, talking and chewing problems…. the list goes on.
It’s important to realize that our teeth are not isolated from the rest of our bodies and in fact are closely related to the neighboring anatomical structures. A toothache should always be checked by a dentist as most are caused by a problem within the tooth, and at that time any other head, neck, and jaw symptoms should be brought up for consideration also.
Mall of Georgia Dentistry’s focus is on finding the most conservative and accurate treatment for your needs. Dr. Vancil will always try to recommend the least invasive procedure, treatment, or equipment to help with any problem, so if the tooth that ails ya appears sound, there may be a need to look into other possible causes, such as those above. And now that you, the patient, are empowered with the knowledge that toothaches are not always cut-and-dry dental issues, Dr. Vancil can help figure out if dental action is needed or if there may be other issues at play. Awareness of all potential causes of a toothache is key in helping you find the best route to your optimum overall health.