How Altitude Affects Your Teeth
Have you ever experienced a sudden toothache during a flight? The pain, known as barodontalgia or "tooth squeeze", occurs due to changes in atmospheric pressure.
What Is Barodontalgia?
You've probably noticed a popping sensation in your ears when you've driven up a steep hill or been a passenger on an airplane. Abrupt changes in elevation cause pressure to build up in your ears but may also affect your teeth. The pain can occur when you're flying, diving, or even hiking in high elevations.
If your teeth are healthy, you probably won't experience barodontalgia symptoms when the atmospheric pressure changes. Generally, the pain only develops if you have a cavity or another dental issue that allows air to enter the teeth and create air pockets. When pressure changes abruptly, those air pockets expand and press against your teeth and nerve endings, causing a sense of fullness or sharp pain.
Tooth squeeze may be worse in you're riding in an unpressurized plane, but the phenomenon also occurs in pressurized cabins. According to Worldwide-Military Medicine, the pain is most often felt during ascent when flying and during descent while diving.
What Dental Problems Increase My Risk of Barondontalgia?
Your risk of experiencing barodontalgia symptoms rises if you have a cavity, a loose or deteriorating filling, or a new area of decay around an existing filling. You may also experience pain in a tooth if you have a crack or abscess, impacted wisdom teeth, or developed pockets in your gums due to gum disease. In some cases, the pain can occur if you dive, fly, or hike in high altitudes soon after you've had a root canal or oral surgery.
Pain in your teeth may be caused by other health problems that are affected by a change in pressure. Barometric changes may increase sinus pain and pressure if you have sinusitis. As pressure builds up, your sinuses cavities press against the nerves in the roots in your upper teeth, irritating them. Pressure changes may also worsen pain in your jaw and ears if you have temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
How is Barodontalgia Treated and Prevented?
You may not be able to do anything about barodontalgia while you're diving, but using over-the-counter pain relievers can dull the pain during a hike or flight. Although ice packs normally ease tooth pain, they're not a good idea if you have barodontalgia. In fact, hot or cold foods and beverages can worsen the pain. It's best to stick to room temperature foods and drinks while your tooth hurts.
It's not unusual for tooth pain to disappear once you reach your usual elevation. The pain may be gone, But the problem in your tooth is still there. Pain that first appears when you dive, fly, or hike always warrants a visit to the dentist. He or she can treat the problem, helping you avoid barodontalgia in the future.
Flying, diving, or hiking in high elevations isn't a good idea if your tooth already hurts, your wisdom teeth are impacted, you have a loose filling, or you can see a crack in your tooth. Wait at least a full day to fly, dive, or hike after you've had a filling received a new crown or undergone any other type of dental treatment. You may need to postpone those activities for at least a week if you've had oral surgery. Check with your dentist for specific instructions regarding flying or diving after a dental procedure.
Visiting your dentist every six months is the easiest way to avoid tooth squeeze. If he or she spots a problem during those visits, it can be easily treated before your next adventure. Is it time for your checkup? Give us a call to schedule your appointment.
Delta Dental: Tooth Squeeze – Your Teeth Under Pressure, 5/16
Worldwide-Military Medicine.com, Barodontalgia – Toothache Triggered by Hypobaric and Hyperbaric Conditions, 1/18/14
Edontology: Barodontalgia: A Review