Yes, Flying Can Cause a Toothache: Here Is How & What to Do About It

Yes, Flying Can Cause a Toothache: Here Is How & What to Do About It
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Yes, Flying Can Cause a Toothache: Here Is How & What to Do About ItClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Causes
  2. How to Prepare for a Flight & Manage Pain
  3. Prevention
  4. Treatment
  5. When to See a Dentist
  6. References

Yes, you can get toothaches during a flight. The pain comes from the change in pressure as you climb to higher altitudes. The condition is also known as barodontalgia.

Experiencing a toothache when airborne is not that common, with only about 0.26 to 2.8 percent of pilots and air passengers getting them.

Causes

Having a toothache while flying is usually regarded as a symptom rather than an ailment. Barodontalgia is caused by:

  • Change in pressure
  • Decaying teeth
  • Poor dental procedures
  • Pupal necrosis
  • A recent tooth-related surgery
Pressure

As the plane climbs during flight, it moves to low-pressure regions. The air in these regions is thin, resulting in a change in pressure.

If your teeth have air pockets due to incomplete filling of cavities, the air inside will expand, causing discomfort in your teeth.

The same phenomenon applies when you feel your ears popping in a flight.

Dental Caries
Dental caries, or decaying teeth, cause holes to form inside one tooth or multiple teeth. Air entrapment will cause toothaches.
Faulty Dental Restoration
Dentists will conduct dental restoration procedures to restore the normal functioning of your teeth. If done incorrectly, the teeth could crack, trapping in air. You may not experience any pain while at low altitude, but the pain might manifest once airborne.
Pulpal Necrosis
When the soft tissue inside your tooth dies, it leads to a condition referred to as pulpal necrosis. Individuals with pulpal necrosis will experience discomfort in their teeth during flight.
Recent Surgery
If you have had dental surgery recently, you might also experience tooth pain while flying. The inflammation that results could cause barodontalgia, which is pain caused by changes in pressure. That is why you should avoid flying after tooth surgery.

How to Prepare for a Flight and Manage Pain While Traveling

If you have encountered tooth pain during a flight in the past, you should visit a dentist before your next flight.

Having your teeth checked by a dentist will help ensure they are in tiptop shape. The dentist examines each filling of your teeth, making sure there are no spaces to trap air.

If making a dentist appointment is impossible, you will need to do the following to manage the pain on the plane:

  • Apply wet cotton wool balls on the affected teeth
  • Use analgesic (painkiller) drugs such as Ibuprofen
  • If you have sensitive teeth, avoid too hot or too cold drinks.
  • Take soft foods and beverages such as smoothies.

Prevention

The following have proven effective in preventing tooth pain when flying.

Regular cleaning of teeth.
Having good oral health is vital in preventing tooth pain while flying. In addition, having clean teeth can prevent dental caries. As a result, it limits the formation of holes in the teeth, which results in barodontalgia.
Using Zinc Oxide Eugenol base.
Appling bases such as Zinc Oxide Eugenol prevents barodontalgia caused by pulpitis, which is the inflammation of the innermost layer of your teeth.
Regular dental checkups.
Visiting the dentist a few times a year for a tooth checkup will also help prevent toothache when flying. The dentist will look for any early signs of barodontalgia and fix them. Finally, avoid traveling by plane 24 hours after dental treatment.

Treatment Options

In most cases, having a toothache while flying is usually a sign of underlying dental disease. Therefore, most any treatment will also correct causes of barodontalgia. Here are some of the remedies:

Endodontic Treatment
Endodontic therapy is done on the inner tissues of the teeth (pulp) and is more well known as a root canal. When completed, root canal therapy will help eliminate air pockets, eliminating tooth pain during flights. The treatment is more helpful if inflammation is the cause of tooth pain.
Surgery
You can also treat the condition using minor surgeries such as apical surgery. Physicians typically perform apical surgery when they cannot correct barodontalgia with a root canal. The procedure involves removing the tip of the root of your tooth. The dentist will then completely seal it to eliminate airspaces that could lead to toothaches while flying.
Fillings
Doctors can also use tooth fillings to treat tooth pain, especially if the cause of the pain is dental caries. Dentists will refill the decayed teeth with materials such as composite resin, restoring the typical structure of the tooth. The dentist should ensure the holes are well filled so there are no air spaces that could lead to barodontalgia.

When to See a Dentist

You should visit the dentist's office if you feel any pain in your teeth while airborne. Make the appointment even if the pain dissipates after landing as it will not go away untreated.

The dentist will examine your teeth and look for anything causing the toothache.

You should also see a dentist if you recently had dental surgery. Inflammation caused by the surgery could cause tooth pain.

The dentist will prescribe a treatment to reduce the inflammation. It will also help prevent any tooth infection caused by inflammation of tissues around the teeth.

References

Barodontalgia among flyers: a review of seven cases.(July 1996). National Library of Medicine.

Pathophysiology of Barodontalgia: A Case Report and Review of the Literature. (December 2012). National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Barodontalgia as a Differential Diagnosis: Symptoms and Findings. (January 2005). Journal of the Canadian Dental Association.

Pain management for dentists: the role of ibuprofen. (April 2015). Department of Oral Rehabilitation, School of Dentistry.

Aerodontalgia. Report of a case. (1988). National Library of Medicine.

Aviation Dentistry. (March 2014). Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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