Cold compress for face pain

Are you experiencing tooth nerve pain and want to find some semblance of relief? Your pain, whether intense or moderate, may be a sign of major tooth-related problems. When surveyed, 45% of people stated that their most recent toothache was the highest pain possible, although they had a range of different dental issues.

However, nerve pain is one of the most intense types of pain you’ll experience because nerves are responsible for sending signals to the brain and spinal cord that something is wrong.

If you have tooth pain and think it may be nerve-related, we’re going to discuss the main cause of the pain and how you can find temporary and permanent relief.

Woman with incepack on cheek

Why Do Teeth Have Nerves?

Humans, like all animals, have teeth to eat or defend themselves. Each tooth in your mouth has two things:

  1. Nerves
  2. Blood vessels

In the root of the tooth sits a nerve, and the blood vessels work to bring nutrients to the tooth. Humans have nerves in their teeth to help them sense both hot and cold. If you drink a scalding hot cup of coffee, you’ll often feel the intensity of the coffee on your tongue or tooth first.

When your teeth are in good condition, the tooth's nerve is well-protected and covered with enamel. However, if you have tooth decay or suffer from an impact injury, it can lead to nerve pain.

The nerve of the tooth is under four main tissues:

  1. Enamel
  2. Dentin
  3. Cementum
  4. Pulp
Tooth with cavity into nerve, dental instruments behind
Tooth with cavity into nerve

In some cases, the nerve is exposed, causing significant pain. You may also have a tooth infection that reaches the tooth’s pulp and causes pain even if the root isn’t exposed.

Remember: Toothaches are a sign that you need to visit the dentist. In most cases, you have serious issues with your tooth that you cannot remedy at home.

Symptoms of Nerve Pain

Nerve pain in your teeth can cause a wide range of symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Cold sensitivity
  • Hot sensitivity
  • Pain when chewing
  • Bleeding around the tooth
  • Discharge around the tooth

What Causes Teeth Nerve Pain?

Nerve pain is complex, but there are two main reasons why the tooth’s pulp may fail to protect the nerve and cause pain.

Dentinal Sensitivity

Widespread pain in teeth indicates that you’re experiencing dentinal sensitivity. This sensitivity is a result of tooth enamel erosion. Since enamel is a protective barrier for the tooth’s root and pulp, decay can lead to intense pain.

Enamel erosion will allow the following to hit your nerve endings:

  • Cold
  • Hot
  • Acid

Many of our patients don’t realize that this form of sensitivity or enamel damage isn’t just the result of cavities. Untreated cavities can certainly lead to enamel damage and this condition, but you may also be experiencing receding gums.

On top of this, some of the aspects of your dental hygiene routine may be causing more harm than good, primarily:

  • Over-the-counter teeth whitening products, which are known for causing nerve sensitivity
  • Brushing your teeth too hard, which can damage tooth enamel and cause pain

Of course, there is another type of tooth sensitivity that can lead to tooth nerve pain: pulpal sensitivity.

Pulpal Sensitivity

Sometimes, nerve pain will impact multiple teeth, but with pulpal sensitivity, pain is felt in a single tooth. When a single tooth is causing pain, it’s a sign that you have an issue with one tooth and not many.

Causes for pulpal pain can include one or a combination of the following:

  • Cracked tooth
  • Chipped tooth
  • Broken tooth
  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth infection
  • Teeth grinding or jaw locking

In some cases, when you have a new filling put in your tooth, you’ll experience minor pulpal sensitivity. This sensitivity will lessen over time and be gone in just a day or two. However, if the pain persists or intensifies, you’ll want to contact our office and book an appointment for a quick exam.

For some people, the nerve pain will radiate to surrounding teeth, but the majority of the pain is centered on one tooth.

Pulpitis is when the pulp portion of the inner tooth becomes inflamed.

Inflammation may subside and reduce the pain. In fact, some pulp can become inflamed and heal on its own, which is called reversible pulpitis. Teeth grinding can also cause nerve pain, but if the grinding stops and the tooth isn’t damaged, the inflammation and pain will subside. There are other times when we can remove the decay on your tooth and reverse pulpitis.

If we cannot reverse pulpitis, we’ll need to perform either a root canal or tooth extraction. In this case, a dental bridge may be used to replace the missing tooth.

Ways to Relieve Nerve Pain at Home

Nerve pain in your tooth is never a good sign, but there are times when you can find relief at home. First and most importantly, you want to follow a strict dental hygiene routine that keeps plaque and tooth decay at bay.

Your daily dental hygiene routine should include:

  • Brushing your teeth two to three times per day
  • Flossing your teeth at least once per day
  • Scheduling routine dental eams

We always recommend preventing tooth decay and pain rather than trying to stop the pain when it occurs.

If you have pain already, you do have a few options for trying to relieve nerve pain. A few of the options that you have are:

  1. Relieve the Inflammation: We’ve established that inflammation of the tooth’s pulp can cause significant nerve pain. Reducing this inflammation is possible in some cases by applying a cold compress to the side of the mouth where the pain occurs. Simply put a frozen bag of peas, wrapped in a towel, on the area for 10 - 15 minutes. You can also wrap ice in a towel and hold it on the area. 
  2. Anti-inflammatory Medications: Some pharmacies sell anti-inflammatory medications, which may help reduce the swelling you’re experiencing and the pressure put on the tooth's nerve. Pro tip: ADVIL or IBuprofen is recommeded for dental pain more so than Tylenol.
  3. Acetaminophen: Also known as TYLENOL and many other names, this medication is often used to relieve headaches. You can also take this medication to relieve moderate pain. You can take this medication and see if your symptoms improve.
  4. Aspirin: Aspirin is another NSAID that can help relieve pain and inflammation. However, it is not recommended for children or people with certain medical conditions, so be sure to check with a healthcare professional before using it.
  5. Benzocaine or Lidocaine oral gel: These topical anesthetics can provide temporary relief by numbing the affected area. Apply a small amount directly to the painful tooth and gum area as directed on the packaging.
  6. Clove oil: Clove oil has natural numbing properties and has been used for tooth pain relief for many years. Apply a small amount of clove oil to a cotton ball and gently place it on the affected area for a short period.
  7. Saltwater rinse: Mixing half a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water can create a soothing mouthwash that may help reduce inflammation and ease the pain. Rinse your mouth with the solution for about 30 seconds and then spit it out.
Vial with clove oil
Clove Oil

Temporary solutions for your nerve pain are just that: temporary. You may find some moderate relief from these methods, but if you have tooth damage, decay or an infection causing the pain, you will want to schedule an appointment with us.

Permanent Tooth Nerve Pain Solutions

Tooth nerve pain can be treated permanently, but you will need the help of a dentist to find long-term relief.


Nearly 90% of people between the age of 20 and 64 have some form of tooth decay. The decay can progress to the point where you need a tooth filling. A filling is the go-to option for correcting a cavity and requires us to:

  • Numb the area of the tooth
  • Drill into the tooth
  • Clean out the decay
  • Fill the hole left

If we allow the hole to persist, food particles will continue to fill the area, allowing acid to form and plaque to build up, eventually leading to further decay. Treating a tooth that is in the beginning stage of decay is much less painful, expensive and intense than having to get a root canal.

Root Canal

Root canals are one of the treatments no one wants to deal with because they’re intensive. However, we have advanced to the point where the initial treatment causes minimal pain or discomfort.

With that said, a root canal is needed in two main scenarios:

  1. Infection has been allowed to reach a severe level and impact the pulp of the tooth
  2. Decay has progressed to a level that even a filling will not correct the issue

A root canal involves removing the tooth’s nerve and the interior pulp. We’ll clean the area of the tooth and then seal it up. Your tooth’s nerve is not vital to the tooth’s function, so your tooth will still function normally.

If a root canal is not an option because the decay is such that the surrounding tooth would be too weak to eat or chew without breaking, we will need to extract the tooth.

Prescribe Antibiotics

Tooth infections must be treated swiftly before they’re allowed to spread and cause more damage. Often, people develop gum disease because the tooth infection can persist, causing pain and damage in the process.

Bacteria is easy to kill with the right antibiotic prescription.

We will prescribe antibiotics for you, and when the infection is resolved, it will alleviate the pain and inflammation that you experience. In some cases, the infection may not cause significant damage and you can be confident that the pain will not return. We may also take an X-ray and perform an exam and find that you still need a filling or root canal to protect the tooth’s nerve.

Before worrying too much and running through scenarios of what may be wrong with your tooth, schedule a dental appointment with us. We’ll perform a thorough exam of the tooth, take X-rays and uncover the root cause of your pain.

Afterward, we’ll present you with a multitude of options to treat your tooth pain.

However, the first step to finding any form of pain relief is scheduling an appointment with us.

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Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu - Dentist at Lighthouse Dental Centre and Blue Water Dental
Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu

With nearly two decades of experience, Dr. Sidhu enjoys helping his patients learn about dentistry. Knowledge is meant to be improved, challenged and shared.

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