You have different sets of molars when you’re growing up. The molars you get around ages 6 and 12 are known as your first and second molars. The third molars are your wisdom teeth, which you’ll get between the ages of 17 and 30.
Molar pain can range from dull to sharp. You may experience molar pain in one place or throughout your entire mouth.
Sometimes, you’ll need to see your doctor or dentist to treat the cause of this pain. You can prevent molar pain by practicing good dental hygiene and seeing a dentist regularly for check-ups.
Molar pain can include pain isolated to a single molar or pain that surrounds one or more of your molars. Symptoms of molar pain depend on the cause but can include:
- pain near your ear
- pain when chewing
- sensitivity to cold and hot foods and beverages
- sharp pain
- sinus pressure
- gum swelling or bleeding
- tenderness near your jaw
- throbbing in your jaw
- tight jaw muscles
- worsening pain at night
Molar pain may be related to your teeth or it could be caused by an unrelated condition. Some of these causes are interrelated while others are more isolated.
Read on to learn more about possible causes of molar pain.
Cold or heat sensitivity
Sensitivity to cold and heat occurs when your tooth enamel wears away and deeper layers of the tooth that contain nerves become exposed to food and beverages. This type of sensitivity can be caused by tooth decay, broken teeth, old fillings, and even gum disease.
Taking care of temperature sensitive teeth
If your molars feel sensitive to these temperature changes for only a short amount of time, you can try a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth and only brush with up and down motions.
An abscess occurs when you develop an infection in your molar from untreated tooth decay. You may have an abscess near your molar’s root or the gumline. An abscess appears as a pocket of pus. You may develop a tooth abscess from a decaying tooth, an injured tooth, or after dental work.
Taking care of an abscessed tooth
Treatment can include a root canal or even surgery to clean out the infected area. You may end up with a crown over your molar to protect the area.
Cavities, tooth decay, and pulpitis
Cavities, also known as tooth decay, can occur in your molars because of poor dental hygiene. Some people are also simply more prone to cavities. You may feel sharp pain or throbbing in a molar that has a cavity.
Pulpitis is the result of inflammation inside your tooth caused by cavities. This inflammation can cause a bacterial infection and needs to be treated before it damages your tooth or mouth permanently.
Taking care of cavities, tooth decay, and pulpitis
You may need a filling, crown, or root canal to repair the damage caused by cavities. Pulpitis may require your dentist to clean out your tooth, treat it for infection, and reseal it.
To prevent cavities, your dentist may recommend getting sealants on your molars. Sealants are usually placed on children’s permanent molars when they first come in. This helps protect teeth during ages 6 to 14 when they’re especially susceptible to cavities.
This gum infection can affect your molars and make chewing painful. It causes inflammation, damages the tissues in your gums, and wears away the bones near your teeth. It can result in tooth loss if left untreated and is even considered an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease and diabetes.
Taking care of periodontitis
Early stages of periodontitis can be treated by your dentist and may include:
- removing tartar and bacteria
- root planing
- taking a topical or oral antibiotic medication
More severe cases of periodontitis may require surgery.
Cracked filling or cracked tooth
You may experience a cracked filling or tooth because of aging or injury. The pain in your molar from a cracked filling or tooth may be sharp and sudden or only flare when you eat or drink cold and hot foods and beverages.
Taking care of a cracked filling or cracked tooth
Your dentist can treat a cracked filling or tooth and restore your molar’s function. A damaged molar can’t repair itself.
Impacted wisdom teeth
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause throbbing pain behind your second molars under your gums. This occurs when wisdom teeth can’t break through the gum’s surface. Untreated impacted wisdom teeth can damage your mouth and surrounding teeth.
Taking care of impacted wisdom teeth
Your dentist may recommend removing impacted wisdom teeth with surgery to alleviate pain and reduce the chances of other dental problems.
Sinus infection or sinusitis
You may feel pain in your upper molars because of a sinus infection. These molars are near your sinuses, and a sinus infection can cause head pressure that radiates to your molars.
Taking care of a sinus infection or sinusitis
Your dentist may recommend that you see a doctor to diagnose a sinus infection or sinusitis. You may be able to treat sinus pressure with an over-the-counter medication.
Teeth grinding and jaw clenching
You may grind your teeth back and forth, causing molar pain. It’s possible you don’t realize you have this condition because you grind your teeth at night while you’re sleeping. This condition can wear down tooth enamel, which could lead to molar pain.
Taking care of teeth grinding and jaw clenching
Your doctor may recommend you wear a mouthguard at night to prevent teeth grinding. They may also suggest some behavioral and lifestyle adjustments.
You may experience molar pain because your jaw doesn’t function as it should. One condition is called temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. This can cause pain around your jaw and surrounding muscles. This condition can cause pain when chewing.
Taking care of jaw conditions
Mild cases of TMJ disorders can be treated at home with an over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Your dentist may also recommend that you see a doctor to prescribe a muscle relaxer or visit a physical therapist. In severe cases, you may need surgery.
The many causes of molar pain can result in a variety of treatments. There are a few general ways to manage molar pain immediately, but you should see a doctor or dentist to address molar pain more permanently and to avoid long-term damage.
You may be able to soothe molar pain temporarily by:
- taking an OTC NSAID pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve)
- applying an ice pack or a warm compress on your face near the molar pain
- using an OTC topical medication with benzocaine with guidance from your doctor
Keep in mind, products with benzocaine can have serious side effects — and shouldn’t be used to treat children under age 2 — so be sure to speak with your dentist before using this as treatment.
You can prevent and manage some forms of molar pain with lifestyle adjustments and good oral hygiene:
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Avoid eating and drinking cold and hot foods and beverages.
- Try not to chew on ice, popcorn kernels, or other hard things.
- Brush your teeth twice a day.
- Floss daily.
- Change your toothbrush every four months.
- See your dentist for cleanings regularly.
Make sure you practice good oral hygiene and see your dentist on a regular basis to avoid the development of molar pain.
If you’re experiencing tooth, gum, or jaw pain, find a doctor or dentist who can assess what’s going on. Delaying diagnosis and treatment of molar pain can lead to more serious dental issues later.