Sinus Infection Tooth Pain: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
A sinus infection is an inflammation or swelling of the sensitive tissue inside the sinus cavity, an empty space in the skull near the nose. Also known as sinusitis, the condition is a common issue for allergy sufferers and those who are recovering from a recent cold.
Sinusitis usually causes symptoms like a runny nose, stuffiness, cough, headache, and facial pain. However, some people feel sinus pain in their back teeth instead. This pain can feel a lot like a typical toothache, but in reality, it has nothing to do with the condition of your teeth.
Treating the sinus infection and relieving the pressure in that area will also relieve the tooth pain.
How Does a Sinus Infection Cause Tooth Pain?
A sinus infection can sometimes present as a toothache because of the location of the sinuses located behind the nose and eyes. Each person has several sets of sinuses (empty spaces) in their skull. The largest set is located just above the part of your jaw where your back teeth sit. In fact, the root tips of some people's back teeth extend directly into their sinus cavity.
These two locations are so close to each other that any pain you feel in one spot can sometimes also be felt in the other. A sinus infection might cause pain in your back teeth, and an infection or traumatic injury in one of your back teeth might cause uncomfortable sinus pressure.
Sinusitis is caused by fluid buildup in the sinus cavity. Excess fluid allows viruses and bacteria to multiply, creating irritation that brings on all the other symptoms of this condition.
Any of the following factors can increase your risk of sinus infections:
Having been sick with a cold recently
Congestive illnesses like cystic fibrosis
Frequent swimming or diving
Smoking or spending a lot of time around second-hand smoke
A weakened immune system, either naturally or because of immunosuppressant medications
Abnormalities in your sinus structure, such as nasal polyps (small benign growths in the sinus cavity) or a deviated septum (when the cartilage that divides the inside of your nose in half is off-center)
Aside from pain in the back teeth, symptoms of a typical sinus infection look a lot like those of a cold. They include:
Post-nasal drip (mucus running down your throat)
Runny or stuffy nose
Pressure or pain in your face, especially around your cheekbones or behind your eyes
What’s the Difference Between Sinus Pain and a Toothache?
There are several indicators that can help you tell the difference between sinus pain and pain from a toothache in the same area. Among them:
Location of the pain. Dull, generalized pain is more likely to be sinus-related, while sharper pain that is concentrated around one tooth is probably due to a problem with that tooth.
How the pain responds to changes in altitude. If your pain gets worse when you go down a flight of stairs or put your head between your legs, it is probably related to a sinus condition.
Whether the pain is on both sides of your jaw or just one. Sinus problems almost always affect both sides of the sinus cavity. Dental problems are usually present in just one tooth.
Paying close attention to your symptoms can help you determine which cause is more likely. Be sure to tell your doctor or dentist about your observations to help them make the correct diagnosis.
Treatments and Home Remedies
If you are suffering from a sinus infection, there are several home remedies you can use to treat it. You can also treat any tooth pain you are experiencing because of your infection.
Many cases of sinusitis clear up on their own, but there are remedies and treatments available to help you manage the symptoms during your recovery. They include:
Saline nasal sprays, which rinse out your nasal passages and may help to dislodge some of the fluid that has built up in the area
Nasal corticosteroids sprays, which treat the inflammation caused by the infection
Decongestant tablets, sprays, or liquid medications
Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen
Using a warm compress on your forehead, which may relieve some of the pressure in your sinuses
Breathing in warm, moist air from a shower or a bowl of warm water
Not all sinus infections respond to the same treatments. If you've tried one or two of these options with no success, don't be afraid to explore other options. It may take some trial and error to find the right one for you.
Over-the-counter pain medications will still be effective for treating toothache pain. The following remedies may also provide some relief.
Hold a cold compress against the affected area for about 20 minutes every few hours.
Apply natural pain management remedies (such as peppermint tea, clove oil or garlic) to your aching tooth.
In most cases, sinus infections respond well to treatment and will clear up after about four weeks. Some cases are resistant to treatment and last considerably longer, around four to eight weeks.
Sinus infections are considered chronic when they last longer than eight weeks or recur at least three times in a year.
Chronic sinusitis is unusual and may be the result of a more serious health problem, so be sure to mention the repeated infections to your doctor or dentist. They may decide that further examination or testing is needed to rule out any underlying conditions.
When To See a Doctor
If you experience tooth pain that you think may be caused by sinusitis, it's best to see your dentist about the issue before consulting your doctor. Many dental-related causes of tooth pain (such as severe tooth decay or a fractured tooth) are time-sensitive issues that could get worse if left untreated.
If your dentist has ruled out all possible dental issues but you are still experiencing pain in your back teeth, wait a little while to see if the problem clears up on its own. If the pain does not improve after two weeks or you have already had multiple sinus infections in the past year, make an appointment with your doctor. They will examine your sinuses for any signs of infection or other medical issues which could be causing your symptoms.
If your doctor does diagnose you with sinusitis, they may prescribe a course of antibiotics to see if your symptoms improve. They may also refer you to an otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose and throat specialist, or ENT) for further examination. These doctors have received additional training in diagnosing and treating sinus conditions and should be able to help you determine what is causing your pain.