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Lucy Stock is a columnist for the Irish News

Why is Toothache so Painful?

by Lucy Stock BDS DipImpDent RCS (Eng)

Published in the Irish News . 23.10.2013

“Worse than childbirth” or “I feel like banging my head off a brick wall” are common expressions that people say to describe toothache but what is it that makes painful teeth so bad?  

The journey of a toothache starts when a small hole develops in the enamel of a tooth. There is a tube in the inside of each tooth that contains a nerve. The hole slowly enlarges making the tooth feel increasingly sensitive until the decay is touching the nerve of the tooth. This causes the nerve to die and breakdown. After a while the inside of the tooth is filled with pus which balloons out through the end of the tooth into the surrounding bone.  

If you got an infection in your leg, the skin will just swell and stretch because of your body’s own immune response. Because the skin and muscle are relatively soft the infection will break through the skin and drain out releasing the pressure. When you have an infection in a tooth, a tooth cannot swell up the same way. The infection is caught inside the tooth and bone, causing a very large pressure. This is the reason for the intense toothache. The pus filled balloon continues to expand in the bone which is extremely painful until it breaks through the outer wall of the bone. At this stage you may notice a bubble on your gum or very rarely the abscess can even appear through the skin on your chin. When the abscess bursts through the gum, the pressure is released and many people feel an instant relief from the toothache. However the cause of the infection is still present and needs treated even after the pain has subsided. 

There are two ways of treating an infected tooth effectively. A quick solution is to pull out the tooth. Since most people feel that it’s best to keep their teeth as long as possible, however, the more common treatment, when appropriate, is root canal therapy. In some cases it’s necessary to combine the treatment with antibiotics. The trick is to seek treatment when a tooth feels sensitive and doesn’t give full blown pain. Getting rid of an abscess infection from your teeth is great not only for your mouth but fantastic for your general health.