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Why Teeth Hurt

Why Teeth HurtThere are several easy answers to the question, "Why do teeth hurt?"  For example, teeth hurt because you don't take care of them.  But, that's not what I want to talk about in this article.  I want to talk about why it is that teeth hurt so much.  They're so small, yet if you've ever had a toothache that kept you up at night, you know that teeth can hurt almost as much as any other feeling of pain you've ever felt.

Teeth Hurt Because They Are So Hard

Teeth hurt because they are so hard.  When the tissue inside of the tooth (the pulp) gets hurt, it has no room to expand.  Here's an example.  Let's say someone punches you in the shoulder.  Your shoulder might get warm and swollen.  Your shoulder has room to get bigger.

Now let's say that someone punches your tooth and chips the bottom of it.  The force of the blow will likely irritate the pulp of your tooth and cause it to get warm and swollen.  Here's the problem, when the pulp gets swollen, it wants to get bigger, but there's nowhere to go!  The pulp is encased in a hard shell known as the dentin and enamel of your tooth.  Pressure builds up inside of your tooth.  Suddenly, the tooth that was hurting due to the initial trauma is now also hurting because of the pressure.

Not sure what the difference between pulp, dentin, and enamel is?  Read my article about the anatomy of a tooth.

Here is what happens in technical terms when the pulp becomes inflamed.  It's a quote taken from the book, Cohen's Pathways of the Pulp by Hargreaves:

Inflammation in the pulp takes place in a low-compliance environment composed of rigid dentinal walls. Compliance is defined as the relationship between volume (V) and interstitial pressure (P) changes: C = Δ V/ Δ P. Consequently, in the low-compliant pulp, an increase in blood or interstitial volume will lead to a relatively large increase in the hydrostatic pressure in the pulp. The acute vascular reactions to an inflammatory stimulus are vasodilatation and increased vascular permeability, both of which will increase pulp interstitial fluid pressure and may tend to compress blood vessels and counteract a beneficial blood flow increase.

Other Parts of Our Body Experience Similar Pain Levels

Why Teeth HurtThe dental pulp isn't the only tissue that experiences high levels of pain when it is inflamed.  Most places in the body that are enclosed in a rigid structure experience lots of pain.

This is why headaches can be so painful, the skull is rigid and there's no room for the swelling to go.

Another example is when you smash your fingernail and you get lots of inflammation underneath the fingernail.  Some people have even gone so far as to burn or poke holes through their fingernails to relieve the pressure that builds up.

Conclusion

Teeth hurt because when the pulp gets even slightly injured, it wants to expand and there's no room for it to expand.

Do you have any questions related to tooth pain?  Leave them below in the comments section.  Thanks for reading!


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4 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. My question is why does the lower right side of my mouth hurt. It is just the teeth. I cannot bite on lwer teeth without pain or now I cannot drink hot or cold drink without the same pain . Please advise. Thank you!

    • Hi Mjhrusovsky - In order to tell why you are having pain, an x-ray would probably need to be taken along with some clinical tests. It could be due to a cavity, inflammation in the ligament around the tooth, a problem with the nerve (pulp) of the tooth, or even a disease in the jaws. In any case, it would probably be a good idea to see a dentist to pinpoint the problem so you can get out of pain.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment, Mjhrusovsky!

  2. Hi Tom
    I recently had a filling as my dentist told me I had a gap between my tooth and existing filinf although i had no problems at all. I experienced extreme pain and sensitivty with other teeth afterwards and went back to see her 5 days later she said that the filling was too high and removed some, it seemed fine for a while but then returned i went back again 9 days later and she got quite annoyed saying that where i was getting the pain was nowhere near the filling i told her that i didnt have any pain or sensitivty before she touched it. She then removed the existing filling and put a sedative in it and a temporary filling in it and said i was to go back in three weeks to have it replaced again and if that dont work she will do a root canal i am tempted to ask her to remove it but i am worried that if she extracts the tooth that i will still have the problems due to the nerves. The sensitivtyis not as bad now but the pain is now affecting my bottom teeth. Please help

  3. hi tom,
    i just had my dental treatment one month before and for few days i dont have any problem but last one week one of my teeth got bleeding ,while bleeding it pains after that i dont have any pain but my main problem is ,it is bleeding everyday so can you suggest me some measures.
    thank you very much.

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About Me

Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

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