Sinus problems are fairly common and can take many forms. Interestingly—and sometimes painfully—they can cause symptoms that mimic oral health issues like a toothache. When you’re suffering from either condition, the distinction may seem unimportant; everything just hurts! However, it’s important to understand the distinction between tooth pain as a result of sinus issues and a toothache caused by oral health problems.
What Are Sinuses?
Often discussed and rarely understood, the sinuses are four pairs of spaces in the bones of the face, located near the eyes, forehead, and behind the cheekbones. Their function is to warm, filter, and moisten the air you inhale through your nasal cavity. As part of this process, they produce mucus, which drains out through your nasal cavity in order to clean it. When that process is blocked and your sinuses fill with fluid, problems can result. This often comes in the form of sinusitis, an infection of blocked, mucus-filled sinuses.
Sinusitis and Toothache
As the sinuses fill with mucus and become infected, they put pressure on the surrounding bones and tissue. This pressure is the cause of the classic sinus headache, a symptom often accompanying colds and flues. However, due to the close proximity between some sinus cavities and the teeth, the pressure can also feel like a toothache. To help tell sinus pain apart from an oral health problem, let’s first look at the symptoms of sinusitis, which may include:
- Stuffy nose, congestion, or nasal discharge
- Bad breath, also known as halitosis
- Pain that gets worse when you sit up and lessens when you lie down
- Tender, red, or swollen cheekbones
If you have any of these symptoms, you may be suffering from sinusitis. If they persist for more than a few days, please contact your physician.
But how does sinusitis cause toothache? Well, the maxillary sinus is a large cavity roughly located behind the nose and above the roof of the mouth. Sinus pressure there can put pressure on the upper back teeth—the molars and premolars—which are close to the maxillary sinus. This sinus pressure can feel like pressure, a sense of fullness, or dull pain on the upper back teeth. This pain may move around as you move your head and jaw. By contrast, toothaches caused by oral health issues tend to be more intense and focused in one particular tooth or part of the mouth.
Treating Sinus Infections and Toothache
Let’s say it again: if your sinus or tooth pain is persistent, you should consult your doctor or dentist as soon as possible. Your symptoms could be the sign of a more serious issue, and you’ll want to seek treatment as soon as you can. In the short term, a variety of over the counter drugs can be used to help relieve the symptoms of sinusitis; ask your pharmacist for more details. Drinking plenty of fluids, resting, and avoiding smoking or areas where people are smoking can also help.
The human body is complex, and the interaction between the sinuses and the teeth is just another manifestation of that. By understanding the difference you can make the right choices to preserve both your respiratory and oral health.