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Why Does My Tooth Hurt When I Bite Down On It?

Jun 09, 2023Jun 09, 2023

There are many reasons that you can feel pain in your tooth when you bite down. A range of conditions causes this kind of toothache, including cavities and damage to the teeth, sinus infection, and gum disease.

In addition to causing sharp stabs of pain when chewing or putting pressure on the tooth, these issues can lead to tooth loss and other problems.

This article looks at the conditions that lead to a painful bite, when to get help, and treatment options.

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Most often, pain when you bite down, is caused by complications of poor oral hygiene or damage to the tooth. It can also arise from sinus pressure caused by infection. The following are common causes of tooth pain.

The most common causes of a painful bite are cavities (holes in the teeth caused by tooth decay). According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 90% of adults over 20 have had at least one cavity. This issue occurs when the hard outer shell of teeth (tooth enamel) erodes when bacteria in plaque feed on sugars in your mouth.

Cavities can affect any part of the tooth; in cases of gum recession due to gum disease, the roots of the teeth can also be affected. It’s essential to treat cavities as they can progress to more serious issues, including infection and tooth loss.

Tooth pain when you bite down can also arise from physical damage. Loosened or cracked teeth have many causes, including:

Periodontitis, or periodontal disease, is an advanced form of gingivitis in which the infection causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, and the underlying bone starts to lose mass and weaken. The toothache occurs from loosening teeth and decay that commonly results from this condition.

Periodontitis is very common, affecting nearly half of American adults over 30. It's a progressive condition and a significant driver of tooth loss.

When properly aligned, the upper teeth should hang over the lower set, and the molars should interlock. If they aren’t lined up, a condition known as malocclusion, they can become worn down and damaged, and their stability can be affected. This can lead to loosened teeth, cracking, tooth decay, and an increased risk of gingivitis and periodontitis, all of which are associated with tooth pain.

Dental fillings to repair cavities or dental crowns—specialized caps placed over damaged teeth—can also be at the root of tooth pain.

If these are loose, poorly fitting, or broken, the underlying structures can be impacted, causing discomfort when biting. This arises due to natural wear and tear, poor fit, dental infection, tooth decay under a crown, or teeth grinding.

Tooth decay, periodontitis, and damage to the teeth can cause the tooth's pulp to become inflamed and die.

This can lead to the formation of an abscess—a pocket of thicker fluid or pus—where the teeth meet the bone. This painful, serious condition can spread the infection to the bone, teeth, and surrounding tissues if untreated.

A common result of tooth decay is pulpitis, an infection of the pulp, which is the nerve and blood vessel-filled tissue surrounding the tooth root. This can lead to the death of these tissues, a condition called pulp necrosis.

Pulp necrosis can cause pain upon biting and lead to tooth abscess, among other serious dental issues.

Pain in your teeth when biting can also be a complication of gum disease or gingivitis. Characterized by bleeding and inflammation in the gums and bad breath, this is a bacterial infection of the tissues surrounding bones and teeth.

As with other dental issues, the specific treatment for tooth pain depends on the underlying cause. Dentists, dental specialists, and healthcare providers employ a range of treatments to take care of this issue.

The specific treatment for a cavity depends on the scope of the damage and tooth decay. Several treatments may help, including the following:

Dental procedures can be highly successful in repairing cracked or chipped teeth, which can treat toothache and other symptoms. Among the procedures considered are the following:

If the alignment of teeth is causing pain or otherwise affecting the health of the teeth, orthodontic treatments can help. The most common approaches include the following:

More advanced gum disease, periodontitis, is progressive and irreversible. This condition is linked to tartar—a hardened, calcified plaque on the teeth—which can only be removed through dental procedures.

Chief among these is scaling and root planing, also known as deep cleaning. Scaling involves physically removing tartar from above and below the gum line, while root planing works to remove pockets of plaque near the tooth root.

Generally, loose fillings or crowns can be easily repaired. If a filling becomes loose or falls out, the dentist can often cement it back into place or replace it. However, additional treatments, such as a root canal, may be needed if tooth decay is beneath the filling.

Similarly, dental crowns can be put back in place with a simple procedure if the underlying tooth structure isn’t affected by decay or damage.

Combatting the infection at the cause of the abscessed tooth is the primary goal of treating this condition. Specific approaches depend on the cause of the issue and can include:

Endodontists—dentists that specialize in treating pulp—can treat pulp necrosis in several ways, including:

If you’re experiencing pain when biting down on food, you should have your teeth checked out. Signs that prompt a call to a provider include:

If your tooth pain is accompanied by swelling around the eye, neck, or mouth, or you have difficulty breathing, go to the emergency room.

Pain when biting down is a significant dental issue that requires treatment. It can be caused by tooth decay or damage, gum disease, loose fillings or crowns, and misaligned teeth (malocclusion), among other issues.

Dentists employ a range of treatments, including dental fillings, root canals, crowns, and pulpectomy, to ease pain and treat underlying conditions.

Pain from biting or putting pressure on your tooth is more than an annoyance. It can be a sign of serious dental issues, which can affect your teeth' health and appearance.

If you're experiencing this type of toothache, it's essential to seek out dental care and treatment. As with many aspects of health, the sooner you get help, the better off you—and your smile—will be.

If you’re experiencing pain in response to pressure, as when you touch it or bite down, it’s important to have your teeth evaluated. Ease the symptoms by taking over-the-counter pain (OTC) medications, such as Advil (ibuprofen) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Aspirin, or icing the area. It’s especially critical to call your dentist and seek care if the symptoms last longer than two days and are accompanied by fever or swelling in the mouth or neck.

In many cases, tooth pain doesn't go away unless its underlying cause is treated. However, if caused by debris or food being lodged between the teeth, it can resolve once the debris is removed. A toothache suddenly stopping can also signify that nerves in the tooth's pulp have died. Getting treatment is essential, as underlying infections can continue to spread.

If the tooth pain you experience has a pulsating or throbbing quality, this can be a sign of infection. This is associated with significant dental issues, especially abscessed teeth (in which the infection causes a build-up of fluid at the tooth's roots or the earlier stages of pulp necrosis (the infection and death of the nerves in teeth). These issues call for prompt medical attention.

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MouthHealthy. Cavities.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Periodontal disease.

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By Mark GurarieMark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.

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