Why Do People Get Toothaches on Airplanes?

If you have ever experienced a toothache, you would know it’s nothing less than a nightmare. The pain, discomfort, and irritability an aching tooth brings are enough to send shudders down the spine. Now, toothaches can be an outcome of one or many different aspects. E.g., a decay forming in the tooth, abscess formation, bacterial infection, or even a tooth fracture. Some of it could also be due to gum irritation and may feel like a toothache.

All these are common reasons for the pain you go through, and you might start to notice some of its symptoms sooner or later. But imagine yourself sitting in an airplane with the glee and excitement of a long-anticipated vacation. Then, the flight starts ascending, and with that, throbbing pain in your tooth pops open all your senses, almost ruining the excitement of the trip. It comes as bewilderment as that tooth had never shown any sign of pain in the past. It continues throughout the flight, making you wonder whether you’ll be able to enjoy what lies ahead.

Surprisingly, the pain and plane both hit the runway as you reach your destination, and while you question how that happened, you are relieved that the suffering is gone. Well! It is a common scenario that many air travelers experiences. Though a less discussed oral health issue, it happens to many more people than you can imagine. Most people even dread taking a flight due to this sole reason. But how and why does this happen? And is there a way to avoid it? Let’s find out.

Why do you experience toothache when flying?

Like how your ears pop during a flight and cause pain, your teeth go through a similar phenomenon. The air in your body tries to adjust to the air pressure changes as your flight ascends and descends. It is because the air is thinner at those heights and is not suitable for breathing. While airplanes adjust the pressure in the aircraft, it usually isn’t enough. As a result, any cavities in your teeth or tiny gaps in your existing fillings will attempt to expand.

It generally happens when there’s decay in your teeth, or you have gotten a dental fill that might have left tiny air pockets within the filling. The expansion of these gaps puts a lot of pressure on the underlying nerves, eventually causing immense pain. While the pain might die down after your flight lands, it is a sign of unhealthy teeth. It indicates a cavity that could get worse and/or your previous dental work is wearing off. In any case, we recommend immediate attention. 

What can you do about it?

Even if you only get a toothache while flying, there is something wrong with the tooth. We suggest you visit a dentist at your earliest convenience. The dentist will check for new cavities and fill them up. If your previous fillings have gone bad or worn off, they will replace them too. But that’s after you land.

In case you develop an unexpected toothache while on the flight, you can take aspirin or acetaminophen, which might help curb the pain for the duration of your flight. You can also apply topical analgesics like Orajel, which will numb the area and temporarily relieve you of the pain. However, these are only short-term fixes. Ignoring it for long might only elevate your problems and result in more pain, discomfort, and, in some cases, even a root canal.

A root canal is mainly an outcome of ignoring early signs of decay which turns into an infection that could reach the pulp. When this happens, the toothache will be persistent and bearable, and the dentist will have to perform proper root canal surgery. But how long do root canals lastWhile root canal surgeries are a permanent fix and can last forever, it is advisable to get a decay fix at the first instance of pain to avoid the procedure. 


Sometimes toothaches on flights can be unavoidable and unforeseen. It could be your very first rendezvous with toothache too. And while the pain will subside, note that healthy teeth never cause pain on a flight. If it’s only sensitivity, using sensitive-friendly toothpaste can help, but if it’s a throbbing pain, you must tend to it to avoid further complications. But don’t get worried. Dentists can be your best friend in helping you relieve the pain and offer a permanent fix. Moreover, prevention is always better than cure.

Taking good care of your oral health and visiting your dentist at least twice a year should be enough to keep major dental problems at bay and give you a pleasant flight experience. So, book your dental appointment today, so you don’t dread your next flight.

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Zaheer Ahmed

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