Yes, sinus pressure can cause tooth pain, typically in your upper back molars. Sinus pressure is the most common non-dental cause of pain that I see as a dentist. I probably see at least one patient every couple of weeks who has a toothache from sinus pressure. They are always relieved that it is a sinus problem and not a tooth problem!
The roots of the upper molar teeth sit right next to the maxillary sinus. In many cases the only that thing separates them is a paper thin layer of bone or tissue. These teeth have blood vessels and nerves that enter at the end of the tooth. In many cases these vessels and nerves run right through the sinus to get to the tooth. Any pressure or inflammation in your sinuses can irritate these nerves causing a nice sinus toothache.
What does a sinus toothache feel like?
A sinus toothache usually feels like a dull ache ranging in severity from mild to moderate. It is rare to have severe pain from a sinus toothache. This ache will tend to get worse as you move your head around.
Some teeth sensitivity to hot and cold can occur along with a sinus toothache.
It can also be hard to tell which tooth it is coming from (because it is usually making them all ache).
How to tell if it is your sinuses
One of the most classic symptoms of tooth pain as a result of sinus problems is pain when you move your head quickly. A lot of times I’ll have patients bend over as if they’re looking at their feet and then quickly straighten up. If the pain comes right when doing this, it is very likely that it is sinus related.
The movie Legally Blonde gave us a great example of this movement… The Bend and Snap! I’d avoid doing this in public unless you like attention!
Also if you’re struggling with allergies, a cold, sinus infection, or a feeling of fullness or pressure around your cheekbone you may be having sinus issues that could be contributing to the toothache.
How to treat the pain
They key to treating a sinus toothache is relieving some of that congestion in the sinus…
- Try taking a decongestant to relieve some of the pressure in your sinuses. The best decongestant you can buy is pseudoephedrine, which you usually have to purchase directly from the pharmacy counter. I’d avoid any decongestants with phenylephrine as it doesn’t work nearly as well.
- If you think it is allergies, consider starting on an antihistamine such as Benedryl or Claritin.
- If you have a true sinus infection you may also need an antibiotic. Your primary care physician can prescribe this for you if appropriate.
- Place hot compresses on your face several times a day.
- Drink a lot of water to help thin your mucus and allow it to drain more easily.
- Take a really hot shower with a lot of steam.
- You can take Ibuprofen or Tylenol to help with the pain while you’re waiting for the sinus issues to resolve. If you’re able to take Ibuprofen, that would be my recommendation as it works better for pain control.
When to see your dentist?
If you are pretty sure that your toothache is sinus related, try all the different methods we just described. For most people the sinus will clear out and the tooth pain will resolve within a week or so.
If after a week it isn’t getting any better it is probably time to give your dentist a call. There can be a couple of true dental problems that can cause the same types of symptoms as a sinus toothache. The major ones include…
- Large cavities
- A dental abscess
- Periodontal disease
- TMJ problems
Also, if your pain is severe, waking you up at night, or you have swelling of the area, it likely isn’t sinus related and will need to be taken care of by the dentist.