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Why Does My Tooth Hurt When Chewing?

Woman with tooth pain

We commonly see people coming into our office with the question of why they have pain on a certain tooth when they chew their food. This can be caused by many different problems and also can have multiple solutions to fix. First our dental office will ask about your detailed history of the problem and then we run a series of tests to find the source of pain. The tests look for deeper cavities, infections surrounding the tooth root, cracks in the teeth, hot or cold sensitivity, and misaligned bites in someone who is a clencher or grinder.

Tooth anatomy

Tooth Pain Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

It’s important to understand the support system of your teeth to see why you have pain from these different sources. Your tooth is anchored in your jaw bone and has a cushion (periodontal ligament) between the two that acts as a shock absorber. If this shock absorber is overused or inflamed from infection, you will have pain from any pressure put on that specific tooth. You also have a space in the middle of each root that a nerve and blood vessels occupy. If this area is encroached upon by a crack or cavities, it causes inflammation and pain to chewing (in addition to other symptoms). And while dental X-rays will show us if there is a more serious problem going on, we usually have to run through a series of tests to pinpoint the underlying cause. Let’s look through each of these issues in more detail and explain how they can cause the pain you are experiencing.

Hot or Cold Sensitivity

If hot/cold sensitivity happens when you chew more often than not it is a problem with the nerve in the tooth. Cavities, cracks, and trauma to the teeth can be the culprits.

Misaligned Bite/Clenching and Grinding

If you are hitting too heavy on one of several teeth due to a misaligned or “bad” bite it will put extra stress on the shock absorber of the tooth. This is greatly enhanced if you are someone who also clenches and grinds their teeth. Usually the pressure sensitivity comes and goes, is hard to localize and may be accompanied with occasional cold sensitivity. In these cases we recommend a minor bite adjustment and/or wearing of customized protective night guard. Invisalign is a great long term way to get the teeth in a better position and to have a more idealized bite.

Testing for Cracks

In addition to visualization of cracks in teeth, we will have you bite into something called a tooth slooth. It will isolate different parts of the tooth in chewing and will tell if a crack is present, and where it is.

Tooth slooth

Cavities and Infection

Treatment for these can range from something as simple as a bite adjustment to something as extreme tooth extraction. In the case of a crack, if it is caught early on a crown is all that is needed. If the nerve becomes inflamed or infected for any of the above reasons, a root canal is the treatment of choice.

Get Relief from Tooth Pain

The key for chewing sensitivity is to have it evaluated as soon as possible, to limit the amount of time and money you will have to spend at the dental office. If you have tooth pain, give our office a call to set up a consultation!

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