Why Teeth Hurt So Bad When They Decay (and How You Can Manage the Pain)

Why Teeth Hurt So Bad When They Decay

We usually don’t think of tooth pain until it happens. Most of us, even when our teeth are healthy, know on some level that a cavity can still happen, for one reason or another, at some point. We usually think, “I’ll deal with it when it happens, how bad can it be?”

Then it happens, and we’re actually surprised by how much it hurts. “This isn’t a ‘no big deal’ situation at all – it’s ruining my life!”

To understand why tooth decay hurts so bad, and when it starts to hurt, we have to look at the structure of the tooth itself.


This is the protective outer layer of the tooth. It’s essentially made up of various minerals, especially calcium. Enamel is often worn away by plaque, which is acidic. However, enamel is also naturally replenished by your body from the foods that you eat.

That said, if you aren’t brushing and flossing properly, acidic plaque can wear down tooth enamel faster than your body can replenish it. At that point, it begins eating away at the:


This is the hard, bony layer of the tooth. It’s usually what we think of when we think of teeth. It’s the part that makes a noise when you clack your teeth together. When plaque wears a hole in the dentin, this is what is officially known as a cavity.

This is where the pain starts to come in. As plaque continues to eat away at the dentin, the cavity gets bigger and bigger, and a certain tissue within your teeth starts to become exposed to the outside elements. That tissue is called the:


As the name implies, this is a soft, pulpy tissue underneath the dentin. The reason your tooth starts to hurt when the pulp becomes exposed to the elements is due to the fact that it contains the tooth nerve.

Remember, the tooth nerve, like all nerves in your body, are responsible for registering temperature changes, damage, pressure, and other things. So it makes sense why acidic plaque eating its way into your tooth nerve is going to set off a firework show in your brain.

Ways To Manage Tooth Pain

First thing’s first – make an appointment with your dentist for the dental services you need immediately! Your dentist will be able to provide treatment at any stage of tooth decay. It might not sound like fun, but it’s infinitely better than sitting around dealing with severe tooth pain. Your dentist will ultimately be able to eliminate your pain so you can get on with your life.

In the meantime, here are some tips for reducing the pain:

  • Avoid hot and cold foods and beverages – As stated above, nerves respond to temperature changes. That’s why hot and cold foods hurt teeth that are damaged or decayed.
  • Brush with warm water – Not hot, warm! This will reduce the pain of brushing as much as possible.
  • Apply clove oil (eugenol)
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain reliever