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Does flying cause toothache?

Not Just a Myth: The Real Reason Flying Causes Toothaches

Going on a much-needed vacation? It’s time to get ready for the long flight ahead. While a lot of people are consumed with packing for the trip and making sure they have everything they need, a good chunk of passengers are concerned with the normal fear of flying, as well as the discomfort that comes with the pressure in high altitude environments.

Everyone knows about the ear popping and bad circulation, especially in cramped airplane seats, but what you may not have heard about before is toothaches while flying. It definitely sounds like a myth, but research shows that it actually has some merit.

Here’s the truth behind this common phenomenon and expert dental care tips to help address them:

Can flying give me a toothache?

We know it sounds strange, but the fact is, flying can make already sensitive teeth feel much worse, especially as the plane leaves the tarmac and begins its ascent. For people who don’t have sensitive teeth, this point in the flight can cause them to experience symptoms for the first time.

While sensitive teeth aren’t necessarily a problem, the combination of increased pressure as the plane flies in high altitudes can affect your teeth. In severe cases, this can even lead to worsening of existing oral health problems, so it’s important to get the dental care and treatment you need before a long flight.

Why Flying Causes Toothaches

As a whole, the body goes through a lot when placed in high-altitude environments because of the increased pressure it exerts on the body, sometimes causing pain. It’s very common to experience a popping sensation in their ears, but it can sometimes be accompanied by a headache. This pressure-induced condition is known as aerodontalgia.

While the pressure can cause sensitivity and pain in teeth, this only happens when there is an underlying oral health problem; if you didn’t know that you had one, chances are that experiencing a toothache while flying will make you aware of it. If you already know about existing oral health issues, you can expect to encounter problems only in affected teeth. And before you get too worried, it’s important to note that the pressure doesn’t exacerbate problems like cavities, gingivitis, and loose fillings.

Aside from existing dental issues, sinus pressure can also lead to toothaches. You’ll know that this is the case when the discomfort comes from all your upper back teeth, indicating that there is a problem with the sinus nerves near your jaw.

Avoid Toothaches Before Traveling

Since the majority of toothaches that occur while flying indicate that there is an underlying oral health problem, it’s important to get ahead of them before you go on another long flight. If you’ve been struggling with pain or sensitivity in your teeth, make time for a quick visit to your dentist so you can get proper dental care to treat the problem before the pressure causes it to worsen.

Signs that You Need Dental Care Before a Flight

The changes in air pressure during a flight can cause air bubbles to develop in teeth. This results in a growing pain that worsens as the altitude changes. Aside from indicating underlying oral health issues or recurrent pain, it’s important to pay attention to the following signs if you have had recent dental work done or are dealing with an existing problem:

  • Recent dental work: flying doesn’t normally pose problems after recent dental work, even including oral surgery. But if you are still dealing with sensitive teeth, there is a possibility of experiencing some discomfort due to the pressure changes. A good rule of thumb to remember is to let your dentist know about your travel plans so they can give you tips for managing discomfort while in-flight.
  • Fillings: old fillings that are due for refilling can cause toothaches, as air can enter into the gaps. This happens when the pressure changes before air can equalize, as the air ends up expanding and causing some pain. Make sure to check with your dentist if you have pending refilling appointments and get them done before leaving to avoid toothaches.
  • Cracked teeth: just like old fillings, air can also enter through cracks and expand as the pressure changes, causing toothaches.
  • Early tooth decay: early tooth decay means infrequent or no toothaches at all, so on the ground, you may still feel fine. This only becomes pronounced as the pressure changes in-flight and causes toothaches. To avoid this, make sure to stick to proper dental care habits and book regular visits with your dentist to prevent cavities and tooth decay.
  • Already-sensitive teeth: flying reveals underlying sensitivity in teeth, which is often caused by an unhealthy diet, such as too many soft drinks and other acidic food and drink, as well as a receding gum line. To prevent further pain and sensitivity, check in with your dentist before your flight so you can learn how to manage the symptoms.

How to Manage Toothaches In-Flight

We know that long flights can have an effect on the body, such as jetlag and exhaustion, cramps, and lack of proper circulation. While these can be managed with sleep, seated exercises, and compression clothing, toothaches are a bit trickier.

If your pre-flight dental care routine includes painkillers, make sure to take them before takeoff and take more as necessary during the flight. Since the pressure changes leave your teeth more prone to sensitivity, avoid cold food and drink and swap out coffee, tea, and both sugary and acidic drinks for water.

Put it on Your Vacation Checklist: Dental Care and Checkup

It’s a good habit to book a visit to your dentist before going on a trip, especially if you’re taking a long flight and are already experiencing pain, sensitivity, or other oral health problems. If you find yourself experiencing toothaches while in-flight but don’t know of any existing dental issues, make sure to check in with your dentist as soon as possible. Remember, pressure changes don’t affect healthy teeth, so when toothaches occur, you may have an underlying dental problem.

If you have recently undergone surgery and notice swelling, redness, or an unpleasant taste in your mouth, make sure to book an emergency dental appointment. These are often signs of infection that need to be addressed right away.

Getting ready for a long flight? Stop by your nearest Dawson Dental location for a check-up and dental care tips so you can fly with ease. Call us at 1-877-308-8105 or contact us here to book an appointment with one of our dentists.