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Often, patients come into our office with facial pain. Sometimes it’s mild and at other times it’s excruciating. Depending on where the pain is located, it can be due to a dental issue, but not always. Sinus infections, for example, can seem like a dental issue because they’re often accompanied by facial pain. Other times, the problem is clearly caused by a mouth or tooth issue. When those problems occur, dentists can usually diagnose and treat them.

Some of the more common pain-related problems experienced by patients are the following:

Tooth decay

You know this as a cavity, a hole that appears in the enamel, the hard outer covering of the tooth. Excessive sugar, bacteria in the mouth and not cleaning your teeth thoroughly or often enough can cause a soft, sticky film called plaque to form on your teeth. If the plaque isn’t brushed or rinsed away, it starts to wear away the enamel. Fluoride toothpaste and fluoridated water will attack the plaque, but once a cavity forms the only course of action is to clean it and fill it. Cavities are visible to your dentist, but he or she is likely to X-ray your tooth to assess the extent of the damage. The dentist will then inject novocaine to numb the nerves in the affected area, use a high-speed drill to remove the decay and clean the area then replace the lost portions of the tooth with a filling.

Periodontal disease

Also known as gum disease, this presents as a combination of swelling, pain and redness at the gum line. Sometimes the affected tissue will bleed as well, especially when irritated by a toothbrush. Daily, thorough flossing helps to prevent gum disease since it removes food particles and bacteria that can become trapped between your teeth and between your teeth and gums. In its early stages, gum disease is known as gingivitis, which can be treated with cleaning and flossing. However, if it advances to periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease, treatments can be more complex. Make sure you floss once a day to keep your gums healthy.

Dentin hypersensitivity

Sometimes, mouth pain can be caused by dentin sensitivity, or sensitive teeth. This common problem occurs when the inner layer of the tooth, or dentin, is exposed, which can happen as a result of receding gums. It’s characterized by a sharp pain that gets worse when pressure is placed on the tooth, when drinking a hot or cold beverage or even when your teeth are exposed to cold air. It can affect one tooth, several or even all your teeth. Often, it appears after the tooth enamel has been worn down due to vigorous brushing, grinding your teeth at night or exposure to acidic foods or drinks. If you have a mild case, you should be able to manage it by using a soft toothbrush and a toothpaste made especially for sensitive teeth. If symptoms don’t improve, your dentist can prescribe a special toothpaste. Sometimes, though, the problem is related to acid reflux, or GERD, and the underlying problem will need to be treated.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders

his is a common problem that can make itself known by any one of a number of symptoms, including pain or tenderness of your jaw, an ache in and near your ear or facial pain. TMJ can make it difficult for you to chew or cause pain while chewing. At other times, your jaw joint might lock, making it difficult to open or close your mouth. Your discomfort could be attributable to a variety of factors, from genetics, arthritis to injury. Some people who experience jaw pain also often clench or grind their teeth. Because the root cause needs to be pinpointed and addressed, you’ll want to make an appointment with your dentist if the problem persists. He or she will either treat it or recommend a course of action.

The problems I described above, as well as other issues, can be extremely painful if not treated promptly. If you have any type of pain, I strongly advise you to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. That way, the problem can be corrected before it has an opportunity to worsen, potentially causing even greater discomfort.