When you experience the dull or stabbing pain of a toothache, you may (quite rightly) schedule an immediate appointment with your dentist to get that painful tooth fixed. Imagine your surprise, then, when the dentist tells you that your tooth shows no signs of damage or disease and that the pain must come from another problem.
Many injuries or ailments in one part of the body can transmit pain signals along your nerves to another part of the body, a phenomenon called referred pain. Teeth can fall prey to referred pain from a variety of non-dental sources. Take a look at four possible health challenges that might translate into a toothache.
If you’ve ever had a bad cold, you know all too well how much pain your sinuses can produce. Your face hosts several pairs of these chambers, which normally contain air but also manufacture mucus. Some of these sinuses sit directly above the nerves that transmit sensation to your upper row of teeth.
If you develop sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the sinuses), the combination of swelling and mucus overload may press on the nearby nerves, which then send pain signals into your teeth. The result can feel very much like a common toothache. When the sinusitis finally recedes, the pain should recede also.
You can often identify a sinusitis toothache by the other symptoms that accompany a sinus infection. These symptoms may include a stuffy nose, nasal discharge, clogged ears or earaches, a hoarse or sore throat, fatigue, and fever. If bacteria has caused the infection, you may need a prescription for antibiotics.
In some individuals, sinusitis can turn into a long-term chronic condition. If your sinusitis-induced toothache never seems to let up, you may need treatment for a deviated septum, tumor, or some other underlying issue that blocks your sinus passages.
TMD stands for temporomandibular disorder, although you’ll also hear people call it TMJ after the joint itself. You have a temporomandibular joint at the rear of each side of your lower jaw. The joints not only attach the jawbone to the skull, but they also allow for the complex jaw motions necessary for eating and speaking.
TMD and dental health share a complex relationship. While a tooth misalignment or bruxism (chronic tooth grinding) can contribute to the development of TMD, the pain you feel may actually come from the resulting strain in the jaw joints. A blow to the face or head can also trigger TMJ, which may then cause toothaches.
If your TMD stems directly from tooth alignment issues, your dentist may reshape your tooth surfaces or recommend orthodontic treatment to help the upper and lower jaw mesh together without jaw strain. Other recommended treatments may include stress management techniques or a night guard to control tooth grinding.
If your TMD refers pain to your teeth despite normal tooth alignment, you may need non-dental medical care. For instance, damaged or degenerated temporomandibular joints may benefit from surgical procedures, injections of medication such as Botox or corticosteroids, and physical therapy.
- Trigeminal Neuralgia
When a major nerve called the trigeminal nerve malfunctions, major toothaches often result. This nerve distributes sensations to the face while also relaying other crucial information to the brain. Pressure on the nerve can send sharp, agonizing pain into your teeth and other parts of your mouth, a condition called trigeminal neuralgia.
Trigeminal neuralgia sufferers can experience devastating symptoms triggered by the lightest touch to the face or teeth. You may experience toothache-like pain on one side of your face or on both sides. The bouts of pain may prove mercifully short at first, only to get longer and harder to tolerate as time goes by.
Anything that places abnormal pressure on the trigeminal nerve, such as a nearby tumor or blood vessel, can cause trigeminal neuralgia. Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis can also contribute to its development. Your risk for trigeminal neuralgia increases as you age.
Fortunately, advanced medical techniques can help you overcome this painful problem. For example, the precise delivery of radiation can shrink a tumor that presses against the trigeminal nerve, while a technique called microvascular decompression can ease pressure from blood vessels.
- Heart Problems
You might never associate a toothache with heart trouble unless your pain comes and goes with stressful activity. This kind of toothache may indicate that narrowed coronary arteries have trouble sending enough oxygen to your heart. The heart then goes into spasm (a condition called angina pectoris), relaying pain to the jaw.
People with known heart conditions should pay attention to any toothache that comes on suddenly with physical strain. Persistent jaw or tooth pain might provide you with an invaluable early warning of an impending heart attack, even if you don’t experience other typical heart attack symptoms.
No matter what causes your toothache, contact Valley Oak Dental Group to schedule an exam as soon as possible. Our team can evaluate the tooth surfaces, take X-rays, and either correct a dental problem or let you know whether you need to seek non-dental care for referred toothache pain.