From Our Archives: Got a Toothache? Remember to Check Your Bite

by | Oct 14, 2015 | Dental Health

By Michael G. Rehme, DDS, CCN

There’s nothing worse than having a nagging toothache. It will not only occupy your time but zap your energy while you try to find relief from the pain. Sometimes it may last for only a day or two, but in some cases it could last for months and even years.

class II malocclusionWhat is the cause of this unfortunate pain and discomfort? Most of the time, it’s quite obvious. A routine dental exam with x-rays usually will give us the answer. Tooth decay, fractured teeth and infections are the most common explanations for these irritating situations.

But if these conditions are not the cause then what is? Sometimes the answer may be simpler than it seems. After practicing dentistry for over 30 years, one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned, that can greatly help my patients suffering from a toothache, is to remember to check their bites.

Imagine your tooth is like a shock absorber. There’s an elastic fiber called the periodontal ligament that attaches the tooth to the surrounding bony socket. These tiny fibers hold the tooth in place and allow the tooth to microscopically move up and down as it adapts to the occlusal forces placed upon them. There is no pain or discomfort in a tooth unless this “neutral zone” is violated.

When a tooth is pushed down into the socket due to an external or un-natural force, a toothache will result. Dentists can use occlusal marking paper to help identify these premature contacts and adjust the bite accordingly until your neutral zone is established again.

Our teeth are so sensitive that even if the bite is only off a quarter of a millimeter, the effects will be felt and the pain will persist until the problem is solved.

Remember these three simple rules:

  1. If a new restoration or crown has been placed recently and the tooth is suddenly very sensitive, especially to cold temperatures or when chewing food, check the bite.
  2. If you notice that you’re suffering from sinus congestion and you develop a toothache at the same time, check the bite. Sinus congestions can create pressure on your teeth and “push” them out of the socket, thus violating the “neutral zone.”
  3. If you do have a toothache but it’s not waking you up at night, there’s a good chance it’s not a pulpitis (infection of the nerve), and – everyone all together now – “check the bite.”

When it is a bite problem and the occlusion is corrected, patients will notice relief from their pain is almost immediate, and the smile on their faces will confirm that the dentist is suddenly their best friend.

A toothache doesn’t always mean that there’s decay or it’s an abscessed tooth. Too often the diagnosis may lead to unnecessary root canals or extractions that could have been avoided.

“Check the bite, make it right and you’ll be out of pain tonight.”


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