Why Your Teeth Hurt When You’re Sick

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Everyone gets sick from time to time. While most common colds and other viruses clear up on their own, it can be concerning when tooth pain is one of your symptoms. In general, tooth pain while you are sick is nothing to worry about.

Your teeth hurt when you are sick because the roots of your teeth are near your sinus cavity. So as your sinuses experience inflammation, they may press on the roots of your teeth, causing pain. But if your cold clears up and the pain doesn’t, call your dentist because it could be a cavity. 

Do you want to know when pain is sinus inflammation versus a cavity? Let’s look at some signs that tooth pain is caused by an illness versus an oral health problem you need to have examined by a dentist. 

Why Do I Have Tooth Pain When I’m Sick?

Frustrated and sick woman took a day off work and stayed at home

When you are sick, it’s your top teeth that typically hurt, and this is because your sinus cavities are located very near to the roots of your top teeth. Teeth roots, especially those of your molars, go quite deep into the head, sometimes as much as three inches from where your teeth sit in your mouth. 

And your sinuses become congested as they try to rid your body of an infection; this puts pressure on the roots of your teeth. These roots are filled with sensitive nerve endings, which can make your entire tooth hurt. 

Also, while you are sick, you probably breathe through your mouth. This can lead to dry mouth and sometimes cause your teeth to hurt. 

If you’ve recently had dental work, or you have a dental issue like a root canal or filling you need to be done, this pain can increase tenfold, leaving you with both a cold and a terrible toothache. 

Recognizing Sinus Inflammation

Because tooth pain can come from several sources, it’s important to recognize when it is just coming from sinus inflammation and doesn’t need any additional attention. 

If you already have common cold symptoms, like a runny nose, sore throat, or coughing and sneezing, then your tooth pain is likely just from sinus inflammation, especially if they started around the same time. 

But it is possible to have sinus inflammation without having a cold or another virus, and when this is the case, sinus inflammation typically only affects your back teeth. If you have tooth pain in other teeth, it might be caused by something more serious. 

Knowing When it’s a Cavity 

The most common cause of tooth pain isn’t sinus inflammation but a cavity. However, there are several signs to look for that will indicate you are dealing with a cavity rather than inflammation.

Your Cold Goes Away, But Tooth Pain Doesn’t

The first sign you’ve got a cavity is when the cold symptoms stop, but the tooth pain is still there. While your sinuses can remain inflamed for a day or two following your illness, it’s time to see a dentist if you still have tooth pain by day three or four. 

Location of the Pain

Sinus-caused tooth pain usually only occurs in the back teeth. However, if your front teeth are hurting, you are more likely to have a cavity and should get that checked out as soon as possible. 

The Pain Increases

When dealing with sinus inflammation, you should have dull pain whenever you aren’t taking something like ibuprofen. However, if the pain is increasing in intensity, this is more likely to be a problem with the tooth that you should have a dentist look at once you no longer have cold symptoms.

Tooth Pain from Dry Mouth

Female trying to ease the pain caused by wisdom tooth

One reason you may be having tooth pain is because of dry mouth. When you have a cold, you usually breathe through your mouth rather than your nose, drying out your teeth and gums.

Teeth and gums that are dry are more susceptible to cavities and can cause pain while you are sick. Drink plenty of water to help keep them moist, and if the pain is still severe, consider making an appointment with your dentist once you no longer have cold symptoms. 

Some cold and flu remedies you purchase over the counter can also cause dry mouth. So if you are taking one of these, add an extra glass of water to your diet for each dose you take to help combat dry mouth. 

Ear Infection Tooth Pain

Sometimes tooth pain isn’t caused by a sinus infection but rather by an ear infection. This happens because the end of your jaw is very close to the nerves of your ear. Therefore when this area becomes inflamed, the nerves around your teeth experience pressure, causing you pain. 

The number one sign that an ear infection is causing your tooth pain is if it is accompanied by pain in your chest, and the pain increases when you lie down. You may also have drainage, itching, or redness in your ear. 

If you experience any loss of hearing or ringing in your ears, this is a sign that you should contact a medical professional right away. 

When Should You Visit a Doctor?

Because tooth pain is attached to so many different illnesses, it can be challenging to know when to contact a doctor. But, in general, you should see a doctor when the symptoms persist. 

While it is normal to be ill for a day or two, whenever you have pain, like tooth pain, that sticks around, it’s better to have it seen by a professional. Also, if you ever have pain that is increasing in intensity or preventing you from eating or drinking, you should arrange to see a doctor immediately. 

Final Thoughts on Tooth Pain While Sick

Overall, if your teeth are hurting a little bit and you’ve got the symptoms of a common cold, then you likely are fine, and the tooth pain will subside when the virus does. But, if the tooth pain doesn’t go away, or increases in intensity, then it is definitely time to make an appointment with your dentist. 

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