Dental Mysteries: What Is Referred Tooth Pain?

Posted on: 26 June 2023

Sometimes one medical professional refers you to another for specialist treatment. This is different from a pain referral, which can be a mysterious occurrence in dentistry. Referred tooth pain is when you feel distinctive pain in a tooth (or teeth), yet the tooth structure in question is healthy and vital. So where is this pain coming from?

Curious and Unknown

The specific workings of referred tooth pain are curious and unknown. What's not disputed is the outcome—a pronounced toothache that must be investigated. There is a complex configuration of interconnected nerves, arteries, and blood vessels in the oral cavity, and it's largely thought that pain in one part of the mouth (or even elsewhere in the body) may be experienced in (or referred to) an unrelated tooth or teeth. 

Investigated by Your Dentist

Of course, you cannot assume that referred tooth pain has not originated in the apparently affected tooth, and toothache is usually a sign of an infection of a tooth's nerve. As such, it should be promptly investigated by a professional dentist. They will order an X-ray, which will immediately identify certain oral infections, such as an abscess. Other infections, like an infection of your tooth's nerve, may not be immediately evident. Even with referred pain, the tooth that originated your pain will in itself be uncomfortable, so your dentist may need to meticulously apply gentle pressure to each tooth in your mouth to find the culprit.

Dental Care

If it's determined that your referred tooth pain was actually referred from another tooth, that tooth will receive the dental care that it needs. Your referred pain should disappear once treatment has been performed, and this may be as simple as receiving a filling to protect an exposed tooth nerve that has been irritated by oral bacteria. Other more comprehensive forms of treatment may be needed, but it depends on the precise nature of whatever dental abnormality is detected.


But what about when your dentist can't detect any abnormality, despite diagnostic testing and a thorough physical examination? Although the mechanics of referred tooth pain can be a mystery, your pain is real, and won't simply be dismissed. It's possible that referred tooth pain has originated from other points in your body, like your sinuses, or could even be related to a headache. If needed, your dentist will refer you to your physician for further investigation. 

Referred tooth pain may be due to a problem with a tooth—although not the tooth where the pain is being experienced. If this mysterious dental phenomenon should affect you, see a local dentist for assistance.