Patients presenting to the general practitioner with pain of dental origin

Med J Aust. 2006 Jul 17;185(2):64-7. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2006.tb00472.x.


Dentofacial pain is a common presentation in general practice, and more than 50% of cases arise from dentally related pathology. In a carious tooth, pain that is site-specific, severe and spontaneous usually denotes extension of caries into the tooth pulp. Caries does not always appear as a cavity in the tooth, but may lie beneath intact enamel or on surfaces between teeth. Examination of tooth pain should include firm percussion (eg, with a tongue depressor). Tenderness on percussion denotes progression of infection into the subdental tissue. Pain occurring 24-48 hours after a tooth extraction is commonly caused by superficial osteitis in the exposed alveolar bone. Examination will reveal the absence of a blood clot in the extraction socket and severe tenderness on local palpation. Severe pain related to impacted wisdom teeth is frequently caused by pericoronitis, an infection in the gingival tissues surrounding the tooth. The surrounding gingiva is erythematous and tender to palpation. Localised facial swellings of dental origin require immediate referral to a dentist. Progressive facial swelling requires aggressive antibiotic therapy and referral to hospital for definitive management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Dental Caries / diagnosis
  • Dental Caries / physiopathology*
  • Family Practice*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Tooth / anatomy & histology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal