When you have dental pain, you go to the dentist, right? Absolutely! If you have a toothache, your family dentist can identify and treat causes from tooth decay to gum disease. However, what feels like tooth pain can often be a warning sign of other medical problems. Your family dentist is the best place to start when you have a toothache. We’ll check for potential dental and oral health issues and refer you to a doctor if your pain stems from a medical problem.
Which Health Problems Can Seem Like Toothaches?
As we know, our ears, nose, and throat interconnect through a network of canals and pathways. Problems that affect the ears and nasal cavity can manifest in the mouth and vice versa. We also have lots of nerves in our faces and heads that can cause pain in our teeth and jaws. Broader health issues that can manifest as tooth pain include:
- Sinus infection: Pain in the upper back teeth is a common sinus infection symptom. The sinuses are hollow cavities connected to your nasal cavity. Two of the largest sinuses are located directly above the roots of your upper molars. When your sinuses become infected and inflamed, it can cause tooth pain. Your doctor can treat a sinus infection with antibiotics, while over-the-counter medications can help with pain relief.
- Ear infections can also be confused with toothaches. The ears, nose and throat are connected and share mucous membranes, so earaches often present as tooth or jaw pain. Ear infections are a common childhood illness: you may see your child rubbing their jaw when they have an ear infection. Your physician may opt to treat an ear infection with antibiotics or watch to see if it goes away on its own.
- Trigeminal Neuralgia: Sometimes, a facial nerve disorder presents as a toothache. Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic condition that affects a crucial facial nerve that carries sensations from the face to the brain. TN often presents as sudden “shock-like” pain but can manifest as a lower-intensity stabbing pain. According to the National Institutes of Health, TN is generally caused by a blood vessel pressing on the trigeminal nerve and can feel like a toothache. After ruling out other causes, your doctor may order an MRI to see if TN is behind your pain.
- Nerve pain after shingles (or postherpetic neuralgia) can occur when your nerve fibers are damaged by a shingles outbreak, creating burning or throbbing pain.
- TMJ: Temporomandibular Joint Disorder is named for the joints that connect the lower jaw to the rest of the skull. TMJ can cause facial and jaw pain. While TMJ Disorder’s causes are not always clear, it’s often related to jaw clenching and stress or tooth and jaw alignment issues. Your family dentist can treat TMJ with a custom-fitted mouth guard to reduce grinding. Medications, massage, and diet and lifestyle changes can also help treat TMJ.
- Teeth grinding can result in jaw pain and chipped or broken teeth, but many patients aren’t even aware they’re grinding at night. A custom night guard can significantly reduce pain from grinding.
- Migraines cause intense pain in different areas of the head. We often associate migraine with pain behind the eyes, but they can also extend to the ears, teeth, and jaw. As the medical community learns more about the causes of migraines, we can address the root causes of migraines and treat them with prescription medications and alternative therapies, including acupuncture and meditation.
Should I See My Dentist or My Doctor for Tooth Pain?
Your family dentist’s office should be your first call for tooth pain. We can diagnose and treat any oral health problems. We can also rule out dental conditions when there are medical causes involved. The most important thing is to get the ball rolling on getting care. The skilled practitioners at Greenhill Family Dental Care can identify and treat tooth pain from oral infection, tooth decay, and other causes, including TMJ and teeth, grinding. We can also refer you to a physician if we determine there’s more to the picture than a typical toothache. Your primary care provider is generally a good place to start. You may need additional referrals to specialists, including an ENT physician for ear, nose, and throat conditions or a neurologist for nerve pain. Our providers are keenly aware of the connections between oral and overall health and take a holistic approach to your well-being.