A sinus infection, or sinusitis, occurs when viruses or bacteria infect the sinus linings. The results can be uncomfortable symptoms, including facial pain and pressure, runny nose, headache, and, sometimes, tooth pain.
This article will look at why a person may experience tooth pain related to their sinus infection and when to call a doctor.
Anatomy of the sinuses
Sinuses are cavities that are filled with air. Small hairs called cilia line the sinuses. Cilia hairs help move air, mucus, and bacteria or viruses through for filtration.
The sinuses allow a route for air to flow and warm the air that enters through the nose.
Sinuses present in the skull include the following:
Frontal sinuses: These paired sinuses are above the eyebrows in the frontal bone that creates a person’s forehead.
Sphenoid sinus: The only unpaired sinus in the head, the sphenoid sinus is slightly deeper in the skull, located near the optic nerve and pituitary gland in the brain.
Ethmoid sinuses: This collection of air cells is in the ethmoid bone between the eyes and at the top of the nose. This bone separates the nasal cavity from the brain.
Maxillary sinuses: These large, paired sinuses are behind the cheekbones on either side of the nose. They are pyramid-shaped and are the largest sinuses in the head.
Without the sinuses, a person’s head would be heavier. The sinuses also help determine the sound of a person’s voice, as their voice resonates or changes with air vibrations in the sinuses.
Can a sinus infection cause a toothache?
A sinus infection can cause dental pain. According to an older article in the British Dental Journal, the most common sinus infection site that causes dental pain is the maxillary sinus.
The sinuses, teeth, and gums all share similar nerves that can transmit pain signals.
Inflammation due to sinus infection or dental disease can press on these nerves, leading to pain. A person may interpret these signals as dental pain.
Can a dental infection cause a sinus infection?
A dental infection can cause a sinus infection.
An evidence review from 2012 estimated as much as 40% of chronic maxillary sinus infections were due to dental infections.
Older studies estimated this amount was about 10%, but advances in imaging, such as CT scans, have revealed dental infections as a more common underlying cause.
As the back portion of the teeth is close to the maxillary sinuses, infectious organisms can travel to these cavities.
A person with this infection type will have maxillary sinus infection symptoms. They may also have the following risk factors relating to their teeth:
- history of jaw or dental pain
- history of or current dental infection
- history of endodontic, oral, or periodontal surgery, especially tooth extractions
Infection of this type requires antibiotics and treatment of the underlying infection in the tooth or teeth. This approach helps reduce the chance of the infection returning.
Sinus toothache vs. regular toothache
A doctor will look at differences in symptoms to help diagnose a toothache that a sinus infection is causing or one from a dental problem.
A sinus infection can cause:
- interference with a person’s sense of smell
- one-sided nasal obstruction, or a stuffy nose
- runny nose, typically on one side
Signs that may be different from sinusitis and could indicate a dental problem include:
- dental pain with temperature changes, such as when eating or drinking something cold or hot
- facial swelling
- gum swelling near a tooth
- pain near a tooth that has dental work
Sometimes, imaging studies, such as a CT scan, can indicate underlying problems with a tooth or teeth.
Other symptoms of sinusitis
A person with sinusitis will usually have a history of a recent upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold. They will start to recover from the cold and may then start experiencing sinusitis symptoms.
These symptoms include:
- discharge from the nose
- facial pain
- nasal congestion
Some people experience chronic sinusitis because their sinuses do not drain well. Their symptoms can last 8–12 weeks. Those with chronic sinusitis are less likely to experience dental pain or facial pain than those with acute sinusitis.
Treatment for sinus infection
A person can sometimes treat their sinus infection at home.
A doctor may recommend home remedies that include:
Nasal irrigation: Irrigating the nasal cavity with warm or room-temperature saline solution to promote mucus drainage. A person can put a warm saline solution in a 10- or 20-milliliter syringe and slowly instill this into the nasal passages while leaning over a sink or bowl. The solution should run down the face, not back into the sinus passages and throat. They should ensure that the saline solution is not hot and make it with distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water, as tap water may not be clean.
Topical decongestants: Utilizing topical decongestants, such as ephedrine, can allow more air to flow through the sinuses. A person should not use decongestants for more than 7 days.
Warm compresses: Placing warm compresses over the sinus areas may reduce pressure. Examples include over the forehead and on either side of the nose.
Rest and fluids: By resting and drinking plenty of water, people will help thin their nasal secretions.
An exception to treating sinusitis at home is when a person has a fever, or the infection seems to have spread beyond the sinuses, such as into the ears.
Someone with pus-filled nasal discharge may also benefit from antibiotics. Treatment for infectious sinusitis is amoxicillin. If a person is allergic to amoxicillin, a doctor may prescribe doxycycline or clarithromycin.
If a person continually experiences sinusitis that affects their breathing and quality of life, their doctor may recommend sinus surgery.
Surgery can widen sinus passages to reduce the likelihood of infection and irritation occurring.
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if they experience the following symptoms:
- severe sinus pain
- fever that lasts more than 3–4 days
- severe dental pain
- inability to eat or drink related to dental or facial pain
- symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
If a person has had multiple sinus infections over the course of a year, they should seek medical treatment. A doctor can advise them on how to reduce the risks of having chronic infections.
Toothache can be a symptom of an acute sinus infection. However, a dental infection can also turn into a sinus infection.
For this reason, a person should not ignore their symptoms if they persist beyond a few days or worsen, and they should seek medical attention.