Toothache: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

A toothache is when pain occurs in or around a tooth. Toothaches are usually a result of decay, cavities, infection, or poor dental hygiene. However, toothaches can occur because of other health issues.

This article covers the symptoms, causes, risks, and complications of toothache and when and where to get help.

Woman at the dentist

skynesher / Getty Images

Symptoms of Toothache

Toothaches can range from short bursts of pain to long-lasting pain that doesn't seem to respond to pain medications. The symptoms of a toothache can appear in both children and adults, whether a tooth is growing or already in place. Symptoms of toothache include:

  • Feeling short (seconds) or long-term (minutes and longer) pain in a tooth after eating hot, cold, sugary, or acidic foods for seconds or minutes
  • Pain around the tooth or in the jaw area
  • Jaw swelling (note: swelling that reaches the neck can put breathing at risk and requires urgent care)
  • Redness, bleeding, and swelling in the gums (also called inflammation of the gums)

Causes of Toothache

The most common causes of toothache are:

  • Tooth decay or dental cavities: Tooth decay is when acids in plaque, a combination of bacteria and old food and saliva, wear teeth down. Tooth decay can cause dental cavities, or holes in the teeth.
  • Dental abscess: This is when bacteria infect the tooth, creating pus and swelling.
  • Gingivitis: Inflammation from plaque and tartar buildup can eventually destroy gums and other tissues.

Other causes of toothache include:

  • Having a broken tooth or filling
  • Issues with braces
  • Sinus infections
  • Earache
  • Jaw or mouth injury
  • Neurological or "referred" pain, in which pain in one part of the body results from injury to another

What Medications Cause Toothache?

Medications that speed up tooth decay can cause toothache because tooth decay is a common cause of toothaches. These include medications that cause dry mouth because lack of saliva can increase the chances that bacteria and food particles will remain in the mouth.

Medications that may cause dry mouth include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Antihistamines and decongestants
  • Opioids
  • Chemotherapy medications

Other medications that can cause toothache include:

  • Antibiotics: Some antibiotics taken for chronic disease can speed up tooth decay and cause tooth deformities, especially for children.
  • Aspirin: Aspirin should only be swallowed with water because it is highly acidic and can harm teeth if chewed.
  • Syrups: Cough syrups and other syrupy medications can leave sugar on the teeth, which can also cause tooth decay.
  • Osteoporosis medications: Medications for bone issues can affect the jawbones.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs: These are drugs that prevent the immune system from overreacting and can increase the chance of mouth infections.

Treatment for toothache caused by medication can include speaking to a healthcare provider about modifying medications or dental treatments like fillings or dentures.

How to Treat Toothache

Treating a toothache might include:

  • Antibiotics to treat bacteria
  • Over-the-counter pain medications
  • A root canal, a procedure that entails cleaning the tooth at the root
  • Draining an abscess
  • Tooth removal
  • Severe cases, such as those that involve swelling of the neck, may necessitate emergency care

Complications and Risk Factors Associated With Toothache

An untreated toothache is more than a cosmetic issue, and leaving tooth decay untreated can result in serious complications. These include:

  • Losing a tooth or other dental shifts
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Bleeding gums or holes in the gum tissue
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Infection in the mouth tissues, jaw, and the rest of the body, including the brain and heart

Risk factors that can increase the chances of toothache include:

  • Poor dental hygiene, including leaving food (especially sugar) on the teeth, not flossing
  • Lack of regular dental checkups
  • Medications like antihistamines, antibiotics for chronic conditions, and antidepressants

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Toothache?

In most cases, a dentist will determine the cause of a toothache by:

  • Examining the teeth and surrounding areas, including the neck and jaw
  • Requesting dental X-rays
  • Asking questions about the pain's timeline, when the pain occurs, medications, and dental history

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It's important to see a dentist as soon as possible if your toothache:

  • Lasts longer than two days
  • Includes other symptoms like fever, earache, or mouth pain
  • Is causing severe pain
  • Includes swelling
  • Is the result of injuries, like a broken jaw (though this likely requires emergency care)

Toothache: When to Get Emergency Care

Seeing a dentist as as soon as possible for a toothache that lasts longer than two days and that painkillers cannot suppress is advisable. But a toothache can require emergency room care if it also includes:

  • Swelling around the eyes or neck
  • Mouth swelling or breathing difficulties
  • A tooth abscess (when bacteria in the tooth causes pus) that needs draining and/or causes fever and swelling of the neck glands and/or jaw
  • Related physical pain, such as a broken bone or severe sinus infection
  • Symptoms of a heart attack
  • An object stuck in the mouth that brushing or flossing cannot remove


Symptoms of toothache can include pain, swelling, and bleeding gums. Causes of toothache include fractures, broken fillings, tooth decay, issues with braces, earache, sinus infection, and heart attack.

Several medications can cause toothache, especially medications that cause dry mouth. These medications include antihistamines, decongestants, chemotherapy, antibiotics, and medications for Parkinson's disease.

Treatment for toothache can include pain medications, draining a tooth abscess, antibiotics for bacteria, and removing a tooth. If a toothache lasts longer than two days or is severe, seeing a dentist is advisable. A toothache that results from an injury may necessitate emergency care.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes a toothache?

    The most likely cause of a toothache is poor dental hygiene, which can include consuming too many sugary foods or drinks. However, an earache or sinus infection can also cause a toothache, as can a fracture or issues with a filling. A heart attack can also cause a toothache. Some medications that can increase the chances of faster tooth decay, which conversely causes toothache, include antidepressants, antihistamines and decongestants, antibiotics, and medications for bone disorders and Parkinson's disease.

  • Can a toothache be dangerous?

    If a toothache is caused by an infection, it can infect the rest of the body, including the heart and brain. Otherwise, an untreated toothache can also cause sores or even holes in the gums. A fractured tooth that is not treated can result in pieces of tooth in the gums, which can cause injury. In severe cases, swelling in the neck or jaw that is caused by a toothache can require emergency care because it can also pose breathing difficulties.

  • Can I get rid of a toothache at home?

    There are some ways to treat a toothache at home, including taking over-the-counter pain medications if a dental care professional is not readily available. However, if the pain lasts longer than two days, professional help is advisable. Removing food particles or flossing also might help with pain, as might avoiding foods that cause sensitivities, like sugary foods or food that is too cold or too hot.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Toothaches.

  2. Renton T, Wilson NHF. Understanding and managing dental and orofacial pain in general practice. Br J Gen Pract. 2016;66(646):236-237. doi:10.3399/bjgp16X684901

  3. NHS. Toothache.

  4. MedlinePlus. Dental cavities.

  5. Siqueira JF, Rôças IN. Microbiology and treatment of acute apical abscessesClin Microbiol Rev. 2020;26(2):255-73. doi:10.1128/CMR.00082-12

  6. MedlinePlus. Gingivitis.

  7. Fukuda K. Diagnosis and treatment of abnormal dental painJ Dent Anesth Pain Med. 2016;16(1):1. doi:10.17245/jdapm.2016.16.1.1

  8. Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Dry mouth: medications and their effect on saliva.

  9. Better Health Channel. Teeth and medication.

  10. Healthdirect. Toothache and swelling.

  11. Aaron SL, DeBlois KW. Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  12. MedlinePlus. Tooth abscess.

  13. The American Academy of Pediatrics. Dental emergencies: what parents need to know.

By Neha Kashyap
Neha is a New York-based health journalist who has written for WebMD, ADDitude, HuffPost Life, and dailyRx News. Neha enjoys writing about mental health, elder care, innovative health care technologies, paying for health care, and simple measures that we all can take to work toward better health.