Spring. It’s a time of renewed hope. The snow melts, the birds return, the flowers, trees and grasses bloom. But along with all those wonderful perks, many people experience a major downside: tooth pain. So, what could be causing this unexpected discomfort and what can you do to prevent it? We asked Dr. Michelle Simpson of Wilmington, North Carolina for some insight into this surprisingly common problem.
Imagine waking up one beautiful spring morning to chirping birds, blue skies and the most excruciating tooth pain of your life. You take great care of your teeth, never miss a cleaning (okay, maybe you miss a cleaning here or there) and when you went to bed last night your teeth felt fine. What gives? Well, if you’re like many people this time of year, you could be suffering from allergies, thanks to the influx of new pollens returning to the air. But why would allergies hurt your teeth?
"It’s not really the allergy itself that’s hurting you," Simpson said. "It’s the sinus pressure."
Your sinuses are positioned directly above your top layer of teeth, which means if there is pressure on your sinuses, there’s a good chance you’ll feel that pressure in your teeth, too. Worse yet, because that pain isn’t caused by a specific tooth, it can often be felt in all your teeth.
"Sinus pain can radiate throughout the top jaw and in extreme cases, through the lower jaw as well," Simpson said.
The bad news for people with sinus-related dental pain, is that it could last the entire allergy season, depending on how severe your allergies are. In some areas of the U.S., allergy season can last two weeks, while in other areas it can last up to three months. For people with pollen allergies, that can be agonizing. But there is good news, too- the symptoms of sinus pain and pressure can often be alleviated with an OTC allergy medication.
"I definitely recommend visiting your primary care physician or allergist if you believe you’re experiencing the effects of a pollen allergy," Simpson said. "Because there is so much overlap between allergy season and cold and flu season, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to medication."
If beginning an allergy medication regimen doesn’t help alleviate the pressure on your teeth, Simpson recommends visiting your dentist to rule out any dental problems.
"There could be a number of things causing you tooth pain in addition to sinus pressure, anything from cavities to an abscess to TMJ disorder," Simpson said. "Unfortunately, none of these things are problems you want to leave untreated, so do yourself a favor and get your mouth checked out just in case."
Simpson also cautions that tooth pain may not be the only symptom of allergies in your mouth- swelling of the tongue and lips, and even itchiness inside the cheeks and roof of the mouth can all indicate an allergy.
"If you are experiencing an allergic reaction, it’s important to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible, especially if your lips or tongue are swelling. These are signs anaphylaxis, and could be life-threatening," SImpson said.
Another important thing to remember? Just because you have never had seasonal allergies before doesn’t mean you don’t have them now, allergies can appear at any age, even if you’ve been exposed to the same pollen for your entire life.
"People often think that it's only new pollen exposure that triggers allergic reactions, but you can theoretically go 40 years without any problems and wake up one day with a severe allergic reaction to the trees right outside your door," Simpson said. "The same thing happens all the time with food allergies."
For those who are experiencing side effects of seasonal allergies, the good news is that this too shall pass, along with the sinus pressure and tooth pain, which according to Simpson is no cause for long-term concern.
"Though this type of tooth pain may be uncomfortable, it poses no risk of long-term damage," she said. "If allergy medication isn’t going far enough to reduce the pressure, speak to your physician or dentist to see if there’s something else that can be taken to help reduce some of the pressure- and always use medications as directed by your doctor."