You’ve packed your bags, dropped off your dog at a
relative’s house, and checked in at the airport. Your plane is even
running on time! You remembered your sunscreen, your iPod, and the new
mystery novel you’ve been planning to read. Finally, nothing can stand
in your way. Now, you find yourself en route to your vacation
destination for a week in the sand and sun. Then, you notice a dreaded
pang in your tooth. After everything has gone so smoothly, why do you
find yourself with a nasty toothache as soon as your plane takes off?
Believe it or not, this is a common occurrence. Today, we will discuss
why it happens, and how you can find a skilled and knowledgeable emergency dentist as soon as your plane lands.
The Relationship between Flying and Toothaches
When flying, your teeth can hurt for the same reasons your
ears pop: fluctuations in cabin pressure. While many travelers
experience exacerbated symptoms of an existing problem, oftentimes a
toothache will appear out of nowhere and with no warning. This
unfortunate consequence of high altitude is so perplexing that there is
now a branch of science dedicated to the phenomenon called aviation
Dental Conditions and Altitude Changes
Experts have termed tooth pain related to atmospheric
pressure changes as barodontalgia, and they have even identified
different types of conditions based on whether the pain occurs on the
ascent or descent. For example, if your dental pain flares up shortly
after takeoff, it could indicate an inflamed or irritated tooth pulp. If
the discomfort is triggered as the plane’s altitude decreases, the pulp
may actually be necrotic (dead). The root cause of barodontalgia can
vary for each individual. In some cases, it is due to deep dental decay.
Other times, it may be the result of impacted wisdom teeth, deep
periodontal pockets, or an infected tooth root.
Dental Restorations and Altitude Changes
Another dental condition common to those traveling by air is
odontocrexis, which affects teeth that have previously been restored.
Odontocrexis is caused by trapped air underneath faulty fillings,
crowns, or other dental restorations. In comparison, when air is trapped
in the sinus cavity, pressure can typically be equalized by “popping”
the ears. However, when air is trapped inside the tooth structure, it
has nowhere to go. Therefore, pain ensues.
How to Manage Your Discomfort In-Flight
Now that you know what causes toothaches on an airplane,
let’s explore how you can manage the discomfort. First, take an
over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. This should
reduce any inflammation and temporarily alleviate the pain. Ask the
flight attendant for a cup of ice and a Ziploc bag, make a cold
compress, and apply it to the external jaw in 20-minute increments. It
is also helpful to drink lots of water, so you can stay hydrated.
What to Do When Your Plane Lands
Once you are off the plane, contact a dentist in the area
right away. You will want to seek dental care immediately, so the
problem does not worsen. (And you certainly don’t want a repeat
experience on your return flight!) Trying to locate a dentist in another
city after normal business hours may seem like a daunting task, but the
Emergency Dental Service makes it easy to find a 24-hour emergency dentist near you. Simply search our network of dental providers, click on a location, and request an appointment. It’s that easy!
Contact the Emergency Dental Service
If you are traveling and develop a sudden toothache, contact the Emergency Dental Service online or by calling 1-888-350-1340. With nationwide service and a team of skilled and compassionate doctors, you’ll be feeling better and soaking up rays in no time.