7 Reasons Why Your Tooth Hurts When Chewing or Biting Down

woman holding face in pain with tooth sensitivity

One of the most common types of toothaches to have is a sensitivity to tooth pressure when you’re biting or chewing. If your tooth hurts with pressure applied to it, there can be a few reasons why; none of them should be ignored.

You might say “Since my tooth hurts when I put pressure on it, I just don’t bite on it at all.” But when you’re compromising with other teeth to do your biting and chewing, it can lead to secondary issues like TMJ pain or irregular tooth wear.

Instead, it’s best to address the condition once and for all.

Causes Of Teeth That Are Sensitive To Pressure

Your teeth are surrounded by a complex network of tiny ligaments that stretch and spring back whenever tooth pressure is applied. There’s also a delicate nerve running through the center of your tooth that, if compromised or exposed, can be extremely hypersensitive to stimuli.[1]

Recognizing the various types of tooth sensitivity — in this case, tooth pressure — can help you to differentiate what’s going on inside of your mouth before you pick up the phone to call your dentist.

1) Broken Tooth

Any time you have a tooth that’s cracked or broken, you run the risk of feeling pain when you bite down. If the tooth hurts with pressure applied, it might be due to the pieces separating slightly or pushing down at different rates.[2]

Treatment

The only treatment for a cracked tooth is usually a crown (if the crack hasn’t reached the nerve) or a root canal. For severe cracks, it might be best to have the tooth extracted altogether. You can think of cracked teeth like a “run” in a pair of old-fashioned pantyhose. Once it starts, there’s no stopping it.

2) Loose Tooth

When a loose tooth hurts when you bite on it, it’s typically due to those tiny ligaments stretching and pulling. Just like muscles and ligaments elsewhere, loose teeth can become sore. Your tooth might be loose as part of the natural exfoliation (falling out) process – like what we see in kids – or because of an infection such as gum disease. Another possibility is if you get hit in the mouth it could knock your tooth loose or damage the bone around it.

Treatment

Depending on why your tooth is loose, you have a couple of options: extract it or splint the tooth into place. A splint can hold your tooth in place by stabilizing it with adjacent teeth until it “firms back up”. But if stabilization isn’t an option, removing the tooth altogether is typically best.

3) Cavity

Any time you tell your dentist, “my tooth hurts when I put pressure on it,” there will be some detective work to do. Does it only hurt if pressure is applied? Or do you notice the pain getting worse when there are temperature changes? What about sweets, like juice, diet soda, or your coffee creamer? If sweet sensitivity is easy to pick up, then it’s likely that you have a cavity.

Treatment

Treating active tooth decay can only be done properly by having your dentist clean out the damaged tooth structures and filling the void in with a small restoration. Sealing the cavity off will prevent painful stimuli when you’re biting, chewing, or drinking. Today most fillings are made from tooth-colored composite (white) materials, as they’re less invasive to your tooth and more attractive to look at.

4) Loose Filling

Anytime a tooth hurts, we want to take a peek at it to see if you’ve had previous dental work done in that area. Over time it’s common to see fillings start to leak or pull away from the tooth as they age. This situation can create a loose filling that shifts each time you bite down on that tooth. Even if you can’t see a gap (what we call an “open margin”) around your filling doesn’t mean there isn’t a leak.

Treatment

It’s best to have leaky fillings changed out in a timely manner before more bacteria seep underneath and lead to recurring tooth decay. As long as the filling is small, it can be changed out with a new one. But larger fillings may involve so much tooth structure that a full-coverage crown is the best choice.

5) Infection After Root Canal

Let’s say your tooth hurts with pressure applied to it, but you’ve already had endodontic therapy (a root canal). Even though your tooth isn’t “alive” anymore, you’re feeling some painful twinging on that area every time you chew. Although it’s rare, there are some situations where a root canal can fail. When that happens, residual bacteria or nerve tissues close to the tip of the root lead to a recurring infection and tooth pain.

Treatment

Root canal re-treatments are typically referred to an endodontic specialist. Endodontists have special equipment on hand to visualize the inside of your tooth nerve and extra resources to access canals that are already sealed off. Keep in mind that it’s “better” (theoretically) to retreat a root canal tooth than it is to pull it; you need to keep your natural teeth as long as possible!

6) Gum Disease 

Let’s go back to those tiny ligaments again. Periodontal (gum) disease destroys those attachments between your tooth root and gum tissue. The infection also causes severe swelling, bleeding, and gum recession. You might be saying, “my tooth hurts when I put pressure on it, but my gums have nothing to do with that.” In reality, your gums help hold your teeth in place. If they’re infected or diseased, you may only feel the pain when you’re pressing down on the tooth.

Treatment

Periodontal therapy targets the diseased “pockets” around your teeth, where the bacteria are eating away at your ligaments and bone. Usually, the treatment process involves a series of deep cleanings to remove calcified tartar and plaque buildup down under your gum tissues (where a toothbrush and floss don’t reach.) The ultimate goal is to get those gum tissues to tighten back up and reattach to the tooth, and as a result they shouldn’t feel sore when you’re chewing.

 7) Abscessed Teeth

Swollen or dying dental nerves usually cause fluid buildup at the tip of the tooth root. You may even see a visible fistula (“pimple”) on the gums, where the infection is draining. Pressing down on the top of your tooth can make your tooth sore, due to the fluid buildup underneath the root.

Treatment

The best treatment for an abscessed tooth is to clean out the infected nerve, then seal the canal off with a root canal. Endodontic treatment prevents the need for extracting your tooth while also eliminating the source of pain.

Soothing Tooth Pain

If your tooth hurts with pressure applied to it, you want to temporarily avoid chewing on that side of your mouth. Notice I said temporarily! Clean around your gums well to figure out if something is wedged between your teeth. Sometimes flossing is all you need. Check for visible signs of swelling or abscesses.[3] If it seems like there’s only a small area of redness or swelling, you can temporarily relieve it with a warm saltwater rinse or taking an anti-inflammatory like Motrin. However, if your symptoms persist for more than a few days, you’re probably past the point of trying to soothe the pain on your own.

When To See A Doctor 

Anytime you feel pain associated with tooth pressure, it’s best to go ahead and plan a trip to the dentist’s office. They’ll need to take a small X-ray to see the areas around the tip of the root to rule out an abscess. Plus, they have special tools to check for leaky fillings or cracked teeth. Pinpointing the main cause will help you treat the issue before it evolves into something more severe. In other words, you could settle for a filling instead of holding out longer and winding up with a root canal.

Overcoming Tooth Pressure Discomfort 

If you’ve said, “my tooth hurts when I put pressure on it” and the pain just isn’t going away, there’s a good reason for it. Whether the tooth is cracked, abscessed, or has gum disease doesn’t matter. What does matters is that you get a professional opinion in the near future. Only then can you prevent the pain from getting worse or having an unwanted emergency pop up! You’ll never regret not having waited for a dental exam.