‘Tooth squeeze’ — Your teeth under pressure
High and low altitudes are known for making your eardrums feel funny. But did you know that atmospheric pressure can also affect your teeth? Called “tooth squeeze” or barodontalgia, this phenomenon is most common among scuba divers, pilots and mountaineers, but it can affect anyone who ventures to extreme environments.
How it works
Gases contract or expand to match the level of pressure around them. Since air is a gas, any pockets of air in your teeth will also expand or contract. In normal environments, these changes would be too small to notice. But in any extremely high-pressure environment (like under the ocean), or a low-pressure environment (like in a plane or on a high mountain), the effect on your teeth will be intensified.
Why would there be air in your teeth? Tiny leaks around fillings, crowns and dentures can allow small amounts of air to enter the teeth, setting the stage for barodontalgia. Or maybe untreated tooth decay has created small holes in your enamel.
Who’s at risk
Tooth squeeze is more likely to affect people who go through frequent or sudden changes in atmospheric pressure, such as:
- Underwater divers
- Pilots and air crew
- Airline passengers
- Mountain climbers
You are less likely to experience problems if you have healthy, intact teeth. Your risk goes up if you have fillings or have had other restorative dental work done. Untreated decay or infection can also worsen under pressure.
What happens to your teeth
The effects of barodontalgia can include:
- Tooth pain
- Loose fillings, crowns or dentures
- Inflamed tooth pulp
- Root infection
- Dental cysts
- Broken teeth
- Bleeding gums
What you can do
Before. If you expect to explore the skies or the bottom of the sea soon, these tips can help lower your chances of barodontalgia:
- Get a dental exam. Your dentist can identify and treat any signs of decay or infection and replace old fillings or crowns.
- Maintain your oral health. Regular dental visits and proper oral hygiene can prevent decay.
- Wait after treatment. Don’t fly or dive within 24 hours of any dental treatment involving anesthesia. If you’ve had oral surgery recently, wait at least a week.
During and after. Already got tooth squeeze? Here’s what you can do:
- Avoid hot or cold foods and drinks. Sudden temperature changes in your mouth can make the pain worse. If you’re on a long flight, for example, skip the coffee and ice cream and stick to items that are at room temperature.
- Visit your dentist immediately. Once you’re on land, make an emergency appointment. Your dentist can fix any loose restorations and treat the causes of your pain.
Published May 2016
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