Pain in your mouth doesn't always mean a cavity. Learn other possible causes of your toothache.
Exercise is great for your body (and mind!), but could it be hurting your teeth? Maybe, suggests a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. The researchers found that triathletes who did endurance training had a greater risk for tooth erosion (a loss of enamel due to acid on the teeth) compared to people who didn't exercise. And the longer they worked out each week, the more likely they were to have multiple cavities. Dentists suspect it might have something to do with saliva—or a lack thereof.
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"Saliva is more than 90% water, so you breathe it out through your mouth," says Gigi Meinecke, DMD, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. "Any time your mouth is dry, you put yourself at risk for cavities because bacteria thrive vigorously in that environment."
That could be a problem if you often do long, intense sweat sessions where you breathe heavily and don't hydrate enough or don't replenish fluids lost afterward.
But even if you don't work out like crazy, there could be other surprising problems plaguing your mouth. Here are five more reasons your teeth might hurt:
Your have a sinus flare-up
If you have an ache in your teeth during a bad cold or around hay fever season, it could be related to your sinuses. "The sinus floor sits right on top of the roof of your teeth," Meinecke says. "If the sinuses are full, people usually come in with pain in their upper teeth behind the eye." Another common way to tell: the pain isn't limited to just one tooth. If it's your sinuses, several in the area will be sensitive. Your best bet in this case is to clear up the infection, so you should see a doctor.
Your gums are receding
Some people with sensitive teeth have gum recession that's caused the enamel at the gum line to wear away. "It's like it doesn't have a coat, so it's exposed to all the elements," Meinecke says. The pain doesn't linger, but will pop up every time the tooth hits hot or cold foods, even a fork or spoon. Most dentists recommend brushing with a sensitive toothpaste, like Sensodyne, but you need to use it exclusively. The toothpaste can help strengthen enamel over time, but you'll disrupt the process if you stop using it, Meinecke says. (So take it with you when you travel, too.)
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You have an abscess
That kernel of popcorn that got stuck in your teeth at the movies could come back to haunt you. An abscess is a tooth infection in a pocket filled with food or debris. Proper flossing can help keep abscesses at bay, but not everyone does it regularly. Sometimes patients come in with bits of food that have been sitting between their teeth, Meinecke says. That could lead to serious inflammation, with swelling, pus, and pain that lasts hours. The sooner you get one treated the better, as an untreated abscess can lead to gum disease. Here's our friendly reminder: floss daily.
You grind your teeth at night
Most nighttime grinders don't even realize they're doing it. "People who grind suddenly bite down and get a lightning bolt of pain," Meinecke says. Teeth grinding is also associated with symptoms like headaches, pain in the facial muscles, and a stiff jaw, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can even lead to broken teeth, Meinecke says. While some patients may be instructed to wear night guards, those aren't always effective. "People can wake up next to it and not even know it was pulled out," she says. In that case, Botox might be a good option. (Really.) It can stop the muscle that moves your jaw from generating the same amount of force, Meinecke says. Many dentists are trained to administer Botox, which should be given every 3-4 months.
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Your filling fell out
A cavity filling can fall out if too much force is applied to the area, or the material breaks down, she says. Decay around or under a filling can also cause breakage. Some patients may not even feel something missing until they bite down. "Food can get pushed into the area as they chew," Meinecke says. "The space can start packing food where the filling left a void and cause pressure." The area could also be sensitive to temperature until it's fixed. Be sure to see your dentist right away to patch it up.