Is Your Pain a Sinus Infection or a Toothache?

Is it a toothache or a sinus infection?

Is it a toothache or a sinus infection?

You’ve woken up to a throbbing feeling in your upper jaw, and you are pretty sure it’s a toothache… or a sinus infection. Should you make an appointment with your doctor or your dentist? Because the roots of the upper teeth are often close to the sinus, the origin of the pain can be confusing you and making you unsure of what’s happening. Here are some considerations that might help you decide which healthcare professional you need to see.

Referred Pain

The reason you’re not sure where your pain is coming from is because the nerves in the face are situated so close to one another. Sometimes, an ear infection, a migraine headache, or even a problem in the lower jaw can cause pain in what feels like an upper tooth. Pain doesn’t usually cross the midline of the face, but anything going on on the left side of your face or head can cause pain in the teeth on the left (and, of course, it’s the same situation on the right side, too). It’s not uncommon for a patient to go to their primary care physician for what turns out to be a tooth problem or for someone to go to their dentist for what ends up being a sinus or ear infection. So if you are in pain, make your best guess and go to whichever provider you think is the right one; if you’re mistaken, you’ll simply be referred to the other.

Sinus Infection Symptoms

If you’ve had a cold that has been slow to clear up, or if you have a lot of congestion or seasonal allergy symptoms, it’s possible that a sinus infection is to blame. A sinus infection can also cause a sore throat and green or yellow nasal discharge. Tooth pain does not cause these symptoms. A fever could indicate either a sinus infection or a tooth infection. If you have recently been ill or you are blowing your nose a lot, then pain in your upper jaw is more likely a sinus issue or even an ear infection than a tooth problem.

Toothache Symptoms

On the other hand, if you’ve recently had a filling done and the next day you wake up with upper jaw pain, that’s a good indication that it’s a tooth problem. Sensitivity to heat and cold in one tooth is another red flag that can indicate tooth decay or leakage under a filling. Tapping your teeth together and feeling pain can be attributed to either a sinus infection or a tooth problem. If you’ve had recent dental work in the area or you know that you have a cavity that needs to be filled, it’s likely that your toothache is truly coming from the tooth.

A dental x-ray will clear up any doubt, because it can show either damage to the tooth or cloudiness in the sinus. If you’re having upper jaw pain and you suspect it’s coming from a tooth, give us a call and we’ll take an x-ray to see what the problem is. If it ends up that you’re having a sinus issue, we’ll refer you to your doctor for treatment.

Creative Commons image by Vincent Angler.