Is It Really a “Toothache” You Have?


How do you know if you really have a toothache or just a passing sensitivity? When should you consult your dentist or just treat the tooth “twinge” with some over-the-counter remedy? How long should you wait to see a dentist for tooth discomfort?

A “true toothache” is considered one of the most uncomfortable experiences that we can endure. Fortunately, in most instances, a toothache can be avoided if you watch for some crucial signs and act upon them.

What are these signs?

It is absolutely normal for teeth to exhibit sensitivity to cold. You should be concerned when you experience sensitivity to cold, hot, pressure, or cold that lingers. What does “cold that lingers” mean? This is sensitivity that persists 10- 15 seconds (or greater) after the cold stimulus has affected the tooth or teeth.

Why should you be concerned when these particular sensitivities occur? Very simple: every tooth has a nerve. When the nerve of a tooth is stimulated (hot, cold or pressure) or “insulated,” it reacts by either living or dying. If the nerve decided to live, it will “normalize” to external stimuli within a short period of time. However, if the nerve chooses to die, sensitivity to hot, cold, and pressure will increase over a period of time, to the point where it is unbearable- “a toothache.”

During this period of sensitivity to hot, cold, and/or pressure, you should consult your dentist to determine if the nerve associated with the tooth or teeth is alive or dying. Often times, a nerve that has been “insulted” by external stimuli can be normalized if treated in a timely fashion. Treatment can vary from simple fillings, fluoride treatments and/or varnishes, to antibiotics therapy.

If the sensitivity to hot, cold, and/or pressure is left untreated, often times the nerve will die. At some point in the process, the “dying of the nerve” becomes irreversible. In this instance, a decision to extract the tooth or remove the nerve (a root canal) must be made. In either case, the affected and infected nerve must be removed.

We all often experience “a twinge” in a tooth after eating something cold or sweet. If the discomfort does not persist or is not repeatable, you may want to wait to consult with a dental professional.

Often times, teeth become sensitive to cold during chilly weather. Sometimes, home fluoride treatments or sensitivity toothpaste can help to ease this type of sensitivity. Again, if the discomfort persists or becomes worse, please consult a professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Hopefully, you will never have to experience a true “toothache.” It is better to be aware of and treat early signs and symptoms of what may turn into a more serious problem later.

Dr. Shikha Batra recently moved her practice to a new state of the art facility. Troy Dental Studio is located at 3960 Crooks Road, just south of Wattles. For more information, call 248-362-1100 or email