Many patients come to us wondering why their tooth pain flares up at night. Dental pain is often amplified by the horizontal position of sleep; when a person lies down, blood flow to the head increases, amplifying the intensity of any pain they might have.
Of course, lying down in the absence of dental issues will never cause a toothache. If a person has a toothache only at night, or a toothache that worsens at night, we recommend they visit a dentist to identify the underlying cause. The most common causes for nocturnal toothaches are:
According to the Mayo Clinic, tooth decay is the number one cause of dental pain. Tooth decay, or cavities, takes the form of holes a tooth’s enamel. Tooth decay is most commonly caused by:
- Infrequent or inadequate brushing
- Excessive consumption of sugary foods
- Infrequent dental checkups and cleanings
- Deficiencies of vitamin D or calcium
If you think you are suffering from tooth decay, you should see your dentist as soon as possible. The longer you put off a dental visit, the worse the decay will become.
Physical damage from trauma or pressure can also lead to toothaches. Patients complaining of dental pain often have cracked or broken teeth that they are not aware of.
Sometimes cracks start small and grow worse over time. Patients often incur this kind of damage while eating and don’t feel painful until later.
Another common form of tooth damage is the gradual erosion of enamel that can occur as a result of tooth grinding. Many people unknowingly grind their teeth while asleep, and some grind their teeth while awake during moments of tension.
Mouth guards can prevent grinding damage, but if the damage has already occurred, it’s important to consult a dentist, as your teeth will not heal on their own.
Gum Inflammation or Infection
The American Dental Association recommends that people should floss at least once every day. Inadequate flossing causes gum inflammation which, left untreated, can lead to infections.
The pain caused by inflammation or infection can often be confused with tooth pain, so diagnosis by a dentist is critical in order to determine the correct treatment.
Wisdom teeth can create pain at any age, which is why it is common practice to have them removed during adolescence. If a person with wisdom teeth is experiencing mystery tooth pain, it may be caused by shifting wisdom teeth. This pain can occur whether or not a patient’s wisdom teeth are above the gum line.
Other Health Issues
Nighttime tooth pain can also indicate that there is another less common health issue at play. Only a trained professional can determine whether or not this is the case, so it’s always best to visit a dentist to rule out all other potential issues before visiting a general practitioner to search for non-dental causes.