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Where Is Your Toothache Coming From?

woman with a tooth acheIf you’ve developed a toothache, you might not be exactly sure where the pain is coming from. Sometimes a patient might be sure that it’s an upper molar that’s hurting when in fact the problem is stemming from a lower bicuspid. Sometimes a toothache can be coming from the jaw, a swollen lymph node near the throat, or even an ear or sinus infection! How can you tell where your pain is coming from? Sometimes you can’t. Here are some ways your dentist can help you find out, though.


If you come to the office with a toothache, chances are good that you will get an x-ray taken of the area that’s hurting. This is true even if you’ve recently had bitewings taken at your last cleaning. One reason is because the type of x-ray taken when you have pain is usually different from the routine radiographs. We’ll often take a periapical film, or a PA, which is a picture of the teeth from their crowns to the tips of their roots.

The reason this is helpful is because if you have an abscess, a problem with the bone, or even a sinus infection, this can show up in a PA film and not in a bitewing. It’s a different vantage point for the dentist to look at in order to find where your pain is coming from.

Pulp Testing

Another way that we can help isolate your pain is by doing some pulp testing. This is particularly useful if you are having pain to hot or cold stimuli. What it entails is putting a very cold piece of cotton on each of your teeth on the affected side of your mouth. If one touch causes pain, we’ve found the problem!

Another type of pulp testing sends a tiny current of energy into each tooth to see which one causes a pain reaction. We might also tap on the teeth to try to elicit symptoms to help determine the exact problem.

A Medical Exam

If your dentist can’t figure out the cause of your pain, you might be referred to your physician or someone who specializes in facial pain to figure out the issue. While your dentist can often tell you if the pain is stemming from the jaw or a swollen lymph node, he or she can’t generally diagnose an ear infection or some other causes of facial or tooth pain. If you are referred out, try not to get frustrated. This will maximize the chances of finding the issue and getting you feeling better soon!

If you are having pain in your teeth or if you are due for a dental cleaning, please call our office to schedule an appointment.

Creative Commons image by Aine.

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