Do You Have Sinus Pressure or a Toothache?

In north Texas, ‘tis the season for allergies!  When the pollen counts are high, we see an uptick in the number of “toothache” calls we receive.  We put quotation marks around toothache because in many cases, the pain our patients are feeling has little to do with the teeth.  We will explain the connection between sinus pressure and toothache here.

What is the Relationship between Sinuses and Teeth?

The upper molars and the maxillary sinus cavities are spatially close to each other in the skull.  The maxillary sinuses are two large air spaces just behind your cheekbones and just above your upper molars’ roots.  In most people, the roots of the upper molars protrude upward into the sinus cavity.

A very thin layer of bone separates the sinus cavities from the roots of the teeth.  On the sinus side, the bone is covered in a soft membrane, and on the tooth side, a ligament connects this bone to the teeth.  Because these two anatomical structures are so closely related, it is not unusual for one to cause problems with the other.

How Can Sinus Pressure Cause Tooth Pain?

When allergies flare up, we often experience an increase in pressure in our sinus cavities.  When our body senses something we are allergic to, it responds by sending lots of histamines and inflammation to the site of the problem.  The increased mucus buildup around this response fills up the sinus cavities, increasing pressure.

This pressure can often press on the nerves entering the teeth.  (Teeth nerves enter the tooth through a tiny pore at the tip of each root.)  Pressure on these nerves and all of the tissues surrounding the teeth can lead to a variety of symptoms.

Most people experiencing the phenomenon we know as “sinusitis-referred tooth pain” describe the following symptoms.

  • A dull ache in and around the upper molars
  • Tenderness on chewing or tapping on the teeth
  • Swelling in the gums at the uppermost part of the cheek
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Jolting pain on impact (i.e. when your feet hit the ground during running)
  • Increased pain when the head is below the heart

How Does Your Dentist Know the Difference?

In general, the key to proper diagnosis of sinusitis-referred tooth pain is to rule out any potential dental cause of the pain. When you call us with concerns about a toothache on your upper molars during a high allergy season, we will suspect sinus problems as the cause, but we will also perform a thorough evaluation with dental x-rays and testing to ensure the teeth in question have no potential dental problems.

As with any toothache, we never recommend dental treatment without first diagnosing the underlying cause of the pain.  In most cases, toothaches are the result of dental infections.  The causes of dental infections, namely cavities and advanced gum disease, are visible on our close-up dental x-rays.

When there are no progressively worsening dental problems responsible for the pain, then Dr. Chowning will investigate into the other potential causes of pain.  When the pain is on the upper back teeth, sinus pressure always makes the list.  The last thing we want to do is perform unnecessary dental treatment.  As conservative dental professionals, we strive to maintain the health of your natural tooth structure whenever possible.

Through careful evaluation and diagnosis, we can discern which teeth are irritated by sinus problems and advise you accordingly.  When a case is persistent, we may refer you to see your medical doctor or an ENT specialist.

More Questions about Sinus Problems and the Teeth?

Call Timberlake Dental today to schedule a visit with Dr. Chowning.  He can evaluate your particular situation and put you on the path to relieving your tooth pain today.

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