Painful Teeth: 9 Unexpected Reasons Our Teeth Can Make Us Miserable

by Ileana Paules-Bronet
Ileana is the Senior Editor of Branded Content at Wild Sky Media. She grew up in upstate New York and Oregon and now lives in Queens, NY. Ileana graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in sociology. After graduating, she attended the Columbia Publishing Course in New York City, then worked as in marketing at Oxford University Press. Since transitioning to editorial, she has written for BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Woman's World. She has also worked for local newspapers and magazines in upstate New York. In her free time, you can find Ileana watching Law & Order: SVU, eating ice cream, and spending time with her dog.

Almost nobody likes going to the dentist. In fact, it’s pretty normal to dread going to those appointments, even if it’s just a cleaning.

Why do we hate it so much? Well, we usually go to the dentist when there’s something wrong with our teeth.

When your teeth hurt, it can be absolutely awful. After all, we use our teeth a lot, so it can be challenging to deal with them when they cause you pain.

Unless you have something stuck in your teeth, the cause of the pain can also be pretty confusing. Many of us just assume that any ache means you have a cavity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There are actually a number of issues that can cause pain in your mouth or jaw, including infections, sinus problems, and gum issues.

Read below to learn more about some of the more surprising causes of tooth pain.

Photos: Laura Caseley for LittleThings; US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Liliana Moreno

Reason #1: You Exercise A Lot

teeth exercise
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If you exercise a lot, it may actually lead to tooth problems.

According to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, endurance athletes have a higher risk for dental erosions, like loss of enamel and more cavities.

If you breathe heavily (like during a workout), you may have lower amounts of saliva, which means bacteria can thrive.

Reason #2: You Grind Your Teeth When You Sleep

grinding teeth
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Grinding your teeth is also known as bruxism. Many people grind their teeth only at night, which means they’re unaware that they’re doing it.

Some of the symptoms of bruxism include increased tooth sensitivity or pain; soreness or pain in the jaw, neck, or face; and headaches or earaches.

Reason #3: Your Gums Are Receding

receding gums
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

When your gums start to wear away or pull back from your tooth, they are receding.

It’s a pretty common dental problem, explains WebMD, but it can cause some mouth pain.

One of the most common early symptoms of receding gums is tooth sensitivity.

Reason #4: You Have An Abscess

tooth abscess
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The Mayo Clinic explains that a tooth abscess is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection.

Although there are a number of reasons behind tooth abscesses, the symptoms are usually pretty consistent: severe and persistent throbbing pain, sensitivity to temperatures, and sensitivity when chewing.

Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and swelling in the cheek or face.

Reason #5: You Have A TMJ Disorder

tmj disorder
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can cause pain in your jaw muscles and joint, explains the Mayo Clinic.

Some of the symptoms of TMJ disorders include jaw pain and tenderness, ear pain and aching, difficulty chewing, pain in the temporomandibular joints, and locking of the joints.

Reason #6: You Have A Sinus Issue

sinus issue
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According to Dr. Alan Carr, who spoke to the Mayo Clinic: “A sinus infection (sinusitis) or inflammation can cause a toothache — specifically in the upper rear teeth, which are close to the sinuses. In fact, pain in the upper teeth is a fairly common symptom with sinus conditions.”

If your teeth hurt, you should go to a dentist first, though they may suggest you go to a doctor if your tooth pain is caused by a sinus problem.

Reason #7: You Recently Went To The Dentist/Orthodontist

dentist orthodontist
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Although we expect to feel better after getting our teeth looked at by a professional, a recent dental visit is one of the most common causes of tooth pain.

Dr. Matthew Messina spoke with Health and explained that when dentists and orthodontists move the teeth, it’s basically a controlled form of trauma and injury. This is why you often leave the dentist chair feeling a little sensitive or sore.

Reason #8: Your Gums Are Infected

infected gums
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, some of the common symptoms of periodontal (gum) disease include sensitive teeth, receding gums, swollen or red gums, bleeding and tender gums, pain while chewing, and persistent bad breath.

Reason #9: You Clench Your Jaw

clenched jaw
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

Tooth clenching, which is another form of bruxism, can cause similar symptoms as grinding your teeth.

If you clench your jaw, you may feel pain or soreness in your muscles, earache, headache, sensitivity to sweets and temperatures, and tension, explains the US National Library of Medicine.

When To Call A Dentist

call dentist
Laura Caseley for LittleThings

If you have any unexplained pain in your teeth or jaw, make an appointment with your dentist to assess what’s going on.

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