Everyone's heard the saying no pain, no gain. But your teeth should never hurt when you exercise.
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If your teeth have a habit of hurting when you work out, don't just grin and bear it. There's usually an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.
So you may be wondering, "why does my tooth hurt when I walk or run?" Here, we spoke with dental experts to uncover some of the most common causes of tooth pain when running, walking or lifting weights, along with toothache remedies that can help.
1. You Have Cold Sensitivity
Breathing in the cold air may be the culprit behind tooth pain when running or walking.
Here's why: "We tend to think of our teeth as solid structures, but deep inside we have a living pulp," says Leena Palomo, DDS, MSD, professor and chair of the Ashman Department of Periodontology and Implant Dentistry at New York University.
This pulp is connected to the outside hard surface by little tubules (called dentinal tubules) which have fluid in them. And just like all fluids (and soft tissue), they respond to temperature. So when the temp turns cold, the fluid contracts. The issue is, your body perceives this contraction as something's wrong, which results in the jarring shock of cold sensitivity you may feel, Dr. Palomo explains.
"Sensitivity increases, especially when your mouth is open and the cold blast can directly hit your teeth," says Joseph Salim, DMD, dentist and founder of Sutton Place Dental Associates in New York City.
If you have receding gums and the roots are exposed to the cold, Dr. Salim says you may experience pain and sensitivity. "Your teeth lack enamel and have no insulation against the cold stimuli," he says.
But cold sensitivity isn't just a wintertime problem, Dr. Palomo adds. The same thing can happen in the height of summer when you guzzle a glass of cold water, slurp an icy slushy or eat ice cream.
If you do have areas of gingival recession, don’t ignore them as they can lead to more serious gum issues, Dr. Palomo says.
To treat gingival problems, she recommends seeing a periodontist (a specialized dentist with expertise in the supporting structures of the teeth, such as the gum tissue) who can properly evaluate you and provide a tailored treatment plan to meet your needs.
2. You’re Clenching
When you're on the last leg of a long run or the final rep of a heavy chest press, you might grit your jaw with exertion, but this unconscious habit can be the reason behind "why do my teeth hurt when I exercise?"
"Clenching and grinding have been associated with endurance athletes for a long time," Dr. Palomo says. Unfortunately, it results in negative outcomes, including tooth wear and breakdown of existing dental work, she says.
And if you clench or grind at night, your teeth never fully rest, and the nerves are constantly irritated due to this continuous trauma, Dr. Salim says.
What's worse, if there's already pre-existing inflammation in the gums, then grinding and clenching may accelerate the loss of supporting tissues around the teeth, such as the jawbone and the ligaments that hold the teeth in place, Dr. Palomo explains.
Grinding may also be associated with your lower jaw position and improper tooth alignment, she adds.
When inflamed gums are present, once again, a periodontist can be useful in diagnosing and treating these situations, Dr. Palomo says.
If your dentist determines the cause is grinding and clenching, Dr. Salim says wearing a customized night guard can help reduce the pain. Moreover, wearing a mouthguard during activity can significantly reduce the stress caused when clenching your teeth. According to the American Dental Association, wearing a mouthguard can reduce the risk of sports-related dental injuries.
And if the cause is aggressive brushing habits, using an extra-soft toothbrush and brushing much more gently should do the trick.
In some cases, you might also consult with an orthodontist (yep, the dentist you go to for braces). That’s because proper tooth alignment and lower jaw position are related to your airway, Dr. Palomo says. “The better the position of the lower jaw, the better the airway, and the better the airway, the better the athletic performance.”
3. You Have a Sinus Infection
When your teeth hurt during workouts, sometimes it has nothing to do with your actual teeth. Huh? Yep, believe it or not, tooth pain is a common symptom of a sinus infection (sinusitis).
The connection between toothaches and sinusitis has to do with anatomy: The upper posterior teeth are located very close to the maxillary sinus, Dr. Palomo says. In some people, the roots of the upper teeth may even stretch into the sinus cavity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
So if you have inflammation and an infection in your sinuses, it's quite possible to feel the pressure and pain in your teeth nearby while you're running or walking.
Conversely, a tooth infection, like a cavity, or discomfort from clenching and grinding may mimic sinus pain, Dr. Palomo adds.
If you have tooth pain, first see a dentist who can rule out possible dental causes (like gum disease, cavities or other infections) and help you determine whether you need to consult with a doctor for a sinus condition, per the Mayo Clinic.
4. You Have Gum Disease
Exercise-induced tooth pain can be a sign of a more serious gum issue like gingivitis or periodontitis, Dr. Palomo says. You're at a greater risk for periodontal disease if you have diabetes, a weakened immune system, poor dental hygiene, smoke or have certain genes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"When you run, it increases your blood pressure, and that increase in blood flow can put pressure on your gums, which can aggravate existing inflammation," says Umang Patel, DDS, an Illinois-based dentist
And if you're a tooth grinder, the damage can be greater. Grinding and clenching accelerate inflammation and the gum disease process, which may lead to the loss of the supporting structures around the teeth (like the jawbone and ligaments), Dr. Palomo says.
The pain may also manifest in other ways such as a headache or soreness in the chewing muscles, she adds.
Again, seek the help of a periodontist who can properly assess and diagnose you and offer a treatment plan. Additionally, here are a few steps you can take to prevent periodontal disease, per the American Academy of Periodontology:
- Brush your teeth twice a day. Timing your toothbrushing after meals is a smart strategy. This helps remove food and plaque trapped between your teeth and gums. And remember to brush your tongue, where bacteria collects.
- Floss daily. This helps dislodge food particles and plaque between your teeth and along your gum line and enables you to reach places that your toothbrush can’t.
- Use mouthwash. Swishing with mouthwash twice a day can help reduce plaque.
- Know your risk. Certain factors – including age, smoking, diet and genetics – can increase your risk for periodontal disease.
- Get an evaluation. If you’re at increased risk, speak with a dentist or periodontist who can perform a comprehensive assessment.
5. You Have a Cavity (or Cavities)
Why do my teeth hurt when I run? Pulsating pain from a cavity can occur when running or jumping up and down, Dr. Salim says.
"The cavity may be underneath an old filling, and the sudden movement can trigger the pain. This happens from the percussion and vibration of the impacted tooth, as the pain stimulus is triggered and reaches the nerve," he says.
See your dentist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment for your cavity and make sure to keep up with your regular dental cleanings throughout the year, so your dentist can identify issues before they become more serious problems.
In the meantime, follow dental hygiene practices, like brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing at least once daily and using mouthwash twice a day to reduce plaque buildup.
6. You’re a Mouth Breather
Common in endurance athletes, mouth breathing is something to keep your eye on, Dr. Palomo says. While it doesn't cause dental discomfort, the habit can cause dry mouth.
Since saliva is protective against oral bacteria, reduced saliva means that your mouth is more vulnerable to issues like tooth decay and gum disease, which, as we know, can produce tooth pain.
“It’s important to have regular checkups with your dentist to identify and counteract dry mouth,” Dr. Palomo says.
Here are some other tips to decrease dry mouth:
- Floss regularly and brush twice daily to prevent plaque buildup and cavities, which are more common in people with dry mouth.
- Stay hydrated, aiming for eight glasses of water a day.
- Try a mouth rinse with xylitol and steer clear of mouthwashes containing alcohol or peroxide, which may exacerbate dry mouth.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate you and worsen dry mouth.
- Use a humidifier, which helps add moisture to the air.
Additional reporting by Sara Lindberg.