Now and then, we in the dental field see patients who suffer from toothaches that don’t seem to be caused by a tooth. If you have pain that feels like it’s coming from a tooth, but your dentist won’t treat your toothache, it can be a very frustrating situation for you and for your dentist.
(Note, you may also be seeing a dental professional such as a periodontist or an endodontist. For this article, I refer to them all as dentists).
In a situation like the above, where it’s unclear why you have pain, there are two options.
Option One: “Wait And See”
When a toothache presents in an unusual way or won’t go away even after treatment has been performed, your dentist may ask you to give it some time. The hope is that your symptoms will lessen, become more recognizable, or the examination findings become more revealing.
It’s important for you, the patient, to understand why your dentist chooses this wait and see approach, especially when you’re in pain and just want some relief. It’s not because your dentist won’t treat your toothache, it’s because additional clues to the cause of often only appear after a bit of time has gone by.
In this case, your dentist might ask you some unusual questions, such as if you have been having other medical problems, sleep difficulties, a recent virus or even cancer-related therapies including chemotherapy. This is all in an effort to get a clearer understanding of why you have a toothache when there’s nothing that indicates there’s something wrong with your tooth.
During the wait and see period, your dentist won’t treat your toothache because they want you to suffer. In fact, they may offer short term pain medications to make you more comfortable and make stay in touch with you.
Option Two: “Treat Me Now Or I’m Leaving!”
Most dentists that won’t treat your toothache don’t want to put you through treatment if they are not convinced, without a doubt, that your pain is the result of decay or a root problem. If you are adamant about wanting your tooth to be treated and your dentist won’t do it, you can move along to a different dentist. However, it’s likely you’ll hear, “let’s wait and see” again.
There’s always a chance you could find a dentist you can convince to treat the tooth, despite the results of an exam and x-rays.
Try to understand that even if your dentist won’t treat it right away, they really do want to fix your toothache problem. They want you to feel better and be able to get on with your life. They have no vested interest in seeing you suffer.
If you insist on being treated and your dentist agrees (despite having no clear evidence that your tooth is in trouble) and the result is your toothache then goes away – great!
However, if your toothache does not go away even after treatment, your problem has just become a lot more complicated. Add to that the time and money you have invested – and you’re not going to be very happy.
Toothaches That Are Not Caused By Teeth
If your dentist won’t treat your toothache, it’s important you find out what they think could be the cause. It may sound weird, but tooth pain can be triggered by factors that have very little to do with the nerve in that aching tooth! Here are just a few possibilities:
- Neck and/or jaw muscle problems, such as tightness, spasm, and fatigue – can be caused by life tensions, bad posture, aggressive tooth clenching, degenerative cervical spine conditions, and more. When muscles are in trouble this way for a prolonged length of time, the result is what can feel like a real toothache.
- Sinus problems can make your upper teeth hurt – sometimes acutely.
- Nerve problems often labeled as neuralgia or neuritis can create intense tooth pain.
- Various medical conditions including systemic inflammatory diseases, migraines, autoimmune conditions, Lyme disease, and other infectious diseases.
- Brain tumors can lead to toothache symptoms.
- Past chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment in the head or neck area can lead to toothache symptoms.
What To Do If A Dentist Won’t Treat Your Toothache
If your dentist won’t treat your toothache dentist won’t treat it because the reason is unclear, there are three tests you should expect:
- A careful exam and x-rays. Sometimes 3D scans can be helpful, too, to uncover what’s wrong.
- Testing your teeth with hot and cold, percussion and mobility tests, and nerve testing with a pulp stimulator.
- Local anesthetic injections to isolate the source of the pain.
If these tests do not identify a specific tooth that is the cause of your toothache, your dentist should ask you more questions. They should validate that your pain is real and explain why they believe the source could be somewhere else.
The Bottom Line
If your dentist and you both want to start work on a tooth, despite being unsure if the treatment will eliminate your toothache, be prepared to consider other sources of the pain if the toothache lingers. Remember, if your dentist won’t treat your toothache, they probably have a very good reason.
Learn more about persistent toothache and referred pain.
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