By Jill M. Golsen, DMD and Justin Parente, DMD
To understand why your tooth hurts, it’s best to start with a brief anatomy overview. A pearly, white shell called enamel covers the surface of the tooth. This hard enamel protects the core of the tooth, which is made of a substance called dentin. It’s important for dentin to stay protected because it is softer, porous, and has important microscopic tunnels. Any damage to the enamel, or to any filling repairing enamel from a cavity, acid erosion, or trauma, could expose the microscopic tunnels in dentin. These tunnels communicate with the hollow inside of the tooth, where a chamber houses a soft, pink tissue called the pulp.
The Source of Pain
The pulp tissue, often colloquially referred to as the nerve, contains pressure receptors and is the source of most tooth pain. Any damaged enamel or fillings can expose the dentin, which will allow fluid to shift through the tunnels and stimulate pain from the dental pulp.
Taking Care of the Problem
Whether temperature change or chewing is stimulating your tooth sensitivity, it’s time to see your dentist who will inspect your teeth and dental restorations for damage or cavities that need repair. Treatment could be as simple as a desensitizing toothpaste, a bite adjustment, or a small filling. If your tooth pain is severe, and the tooth is aching spontaneously, do not delay. Ask your dentist for a referral to an endodontist, a dentist who specializes in comfortably treating toothaches and tooth infections. Severe pain could mean the damage has caused irreversible harm to the pulp tissue, and that the tooth will likely require root canal treatment, a surprisingly gentle procedure that will quickly alleviate all of your problems.