Toothache or Sinusitis?


Come winter and allergy prone people, like me find ourselves in dismay with a stuffy nose and itchy watery eyes. Many a times, this is accompanied by a persistent toothache of the upper teeth. The toothache is dull and gnawing and difficult to exactly locate. Sometimes, pressing the gums over that area feels good. Did you know that sinusitis and toothache could be related? Yes they are and a sinus infection can bring along with it, a nagging tooth ache. How do you know if the pain you’re feeling is from a sinus infection or a tooth that needs attention? Read on to know more!

What is sinusitis?

Sinusitis refers to angry sinuses. The sinuses are air-filled cavities that connect to the inside area of the nose. Due to cold, allergy or any respiratory infection the passages in the nose become inflamed and do not allow a smooth fluid flow. Fluid builds up inside causing extreme pressure and inflammation in the maxillary sinus. Sinusitis is most commonly caused by:

  • Common cold
  • Allergies
  • Pollutants and tissue irritants
  • Anatomical obstruction in the nasal passage or sinus polyps
  • Respiratory or dental infections

How is sinusitis related to teeth?

The roots of your top back teeth (premolars and molars) lie just beneath the maxillary sinus. As we age, our sinuses grow and push against the roots of our upper back teeth.  An inflamed and fluid filled maxillary sinus exerts pressure on the nerves that enter the roots of the upper teeth resulting in a toothache. This toothache is often confused with other causes of tooth pain like gum disease, tooth decay, or an impacted wisdom tooth.

What are the symptoms of sinusitis?

  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose and nasal discharge
  • Bad breath
  • Pain that is worse when sitting up than when lying down
  • Tenderness, redness, or swelling in the cheekbones
  • Cough
  • Persistent sinus toothache
  • Pain that increases when nodding the head up and down
  • Earache

What kind of pain occurs in sinus toothache?

These toothaches are intense, continuous, and in the upper back teeth. Sometimes the toothache will be on one side and sometimes it may be on both. It is also possible for the toothache to jump to the lower teeth, causing what is known as a referred pain.

What can be done if you have a sinus toothache?

Tooth pain related to sinusitis will often diminish or disappear within a few days as the sinusitis is treated. If the pain persists, the cause could be related to the tooth itself. Persistent tooth ache may indicate the presence of other factors such as:

  • Gum disease
  • Bruxism, or tooth grinding
  • Dental decay
  • Dental abscesses

What is the treatment of a sinus toothache?

Any kind of discomfort should not be ignored. There are chances that the toothache is not related to the sinus infection which is why a dentist opinion should be sought. The dentist will investigate to determine the cause of the pain. A clinical examination, patient’s history and x rays would be taken to look for the source of pain. If a dental issue is not found, the pain is attributed to the inflamed sinus for which treatment for the sinusitis would be advised. The physician would prescribe antihistamines, decongestants or/and antibiotics, nasal sprays to treat the inflammation and provide relief from the sinusitis and sinus toothache.

Sinusitis induced toothache is a relatively common complaint for patients who develop a sinus infection due to a cold or other reasons. Accurate diagnosis is important for the effective treatment of the sinus toothache and the underlying infection that is causing it.

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