Toothaches and High Altitudes

Changes in elevation can cause pain in the teeth, which is a condition called barodontalgia. It is not only caused by mountain climbing, but by any change in atmospheric pressure. Whatever the initial cause, these painful toothaches are often a sign of underlying dental problems or imperfect dental work.

Nicknames

The condition of barodontalgia, previously known as aerodontalgia, also has a slew of informal nicknames. Aviators refer to it as "flyer's toothache" while scuba divers dub it "tooth squeeze." It can also be described as a simple toothache. Whatever the name, it refers to a pain in the teeth caused by changes in air pressure.

Causes

Any change in elevation can cause barodontalgia. High-altitude mountaineering, scuba diving and flying can all cause these toothaches, as well as living in the high country. The change in air pressure can aggravate pre-existing dental conditions. Those most susceptible to barodontalgia include scuba divers, military pilots and the crew of commercial airliners.

Pathology

Often, the pain of a high altitude toothache is caused by air trapped inside a filling or cavity. Since teeth are unable to expand to accommodate changes in pressure, the resulting buildup of pressure can cause intense pain in abscesses or flawed filling and root canals. The pain can signify tooth decay, dental infections or recent tooth extraction or fillings. In extreme cases, a filling may pop out of place from high-altitude pressure.

Treatment

Anyone experiencing barodontalgia should visit a dentist or an ear, nose and throat doctor to determine whether there is an underlying condition causing the pain. When the person returns to ground level, often the pain will cease entirely but a dental checkup is still necessary to investigate underlying causes. In order to prevent barodontalgia, you should practice good oral hygiene such as frequent tooth brushing and flossing along with regular dental checkups. Those who are frequently subject to changes in air pressure should pay particular attention to their dental health to prevent these painful toothaches.

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