Each year thousands of people develop sinus infections from various causes. But there's one cause for sinusitis that might surprise you—tooth decay.
Tooth decay begins when the acid produced by oral bacteria erodes a tooth's enamel protection to create a small hole or cavity. Left untreated, the infection can move into the inner pulp of the tooth and tiny passageways leading to the roots called root canals. The decay can then infect and break down the structure of the supporting jawbone.
This could affect the sinus cavities, hollow air-filled spaces in the upper portion of the face. The maxillary sinus in particular sits behind the cheek bones just above the upper jaw. Tooth roots, particularly in back teeth, can extend quite near or even poke through the floor of the maxillary sinus.
If decay affects these roots, the bone beneath this floor may begin to break down and allow the bacterial infection to enter the sinus. We call this particular kind of sinus infection maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin (MSEO), "endodontic" referring to the interior structure of teeth.
While advanced decay can show symptoms like pain or sensitivity with certain hot or cold foods, it's also possible to have it and not know it directly. But a recurring sinus infection could be an indirect indication that the root of your suffering is a deeply decayed tooth. Treating the sinus infection with antibiotics won't cure this underlying dental problem. For that you'll need to see a dentist or an endodontist, a specialist for interior tooth issues.
The most common way to treat deep tooth decay is with root canal therapy. In this procedure, the dentist enters the decayed tooth's pulp (nerve chamber) and root canals and removes the diseased tissue. They will then fill the empty pulp and root canals with a special filling and seal the tooth to prevent future infection. The procedure stops the infection and saves the tooth—and if you have MSEO, it eliminates the cause of the sinus infection.
So, if you're suffering from chronic sinus infections, you might talk with your dentist about the possibility of a tooth infection. A thorough examination might reveal a decayed tooth in need of treatment.
Most dental problems arise from tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But they aren't the only source of danger to your teeth—gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could be just as damaging to your tooth enamel as dental disease.
GERD usually occurs when a ring of muscles at the top of the stomach weaken, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. This resulting acid reflux can make life unpleasant and pose potential health dangers—over time it can damage the lining of the esophagus and cause ulcers and pre-cancerous cells. It can also erode tooth enamel if acid enters the mouth and raises its level of acidity.
This can be a problem because acid can soften and dissolve the mineral content of tooth enamel. This is the primary cause of tooth decay as acid produced by oral bacteria attack enamel. The more bacteria present, often thriving in dental plaque, the higher the potential levels of acid that can damage enamel. Stomach acid, which is strong enough to break down food, can cause similar harm to enamel if it causes higher than normal acidity in the mouth.
There are some things you can do to protect your teeth if you have GERD, namely manage your GERD symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. You may need to avoid alcohol, caffeine or heavily acidic or spicy foods, all known to aggravate GERD symptoms. Quitting smoking and avoiding late night meals might also ease indigestion. And your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help control your acid reflux.
You can also boost your teeth's enamel health by practicing daily brushing and flossing—but not right after a reflux episode. The enamel could be softened, so brushing can potentially remove tiny particles of mineral content. Instead, rinse with water mixed with or without a little baking soda to help neutralize acid and wait about an hour—this will give saliva, the mouth's natural acid neutralizer, time to restore the mouth's normal pH level.
And be sure you're using a fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens enamel—in fact, your dentist may recommend topical fluoride applications to boost the effect.
These and other tips can help minimize the effects of GERD on your dental health. With an ounce of prevention, you can keep it from permanently damaging your teeth.
If you would like more information on managing your dental health with GERD, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “GERD and Oral Health.”
The sooner you get treated for tooth decay, the less likely you'll lose your tooth. That could mean a simple filling—or you might need a root canal treatment if decay has reached the inner pulp.
There's also another procedure for advanced decay called pulp capping. It's a bit more involved than filling a cavity but less so than a root canal. We can use it if decay has exposed or nearly exposed the pulp, but not yet infected it—otherwise, you may still need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue.
There are two types of pulp capping methods, direct and indirect. We use direct pulp capping if the pulp has been exposed by decay. After isolating the tooth to protect other teeth from contamination, we remove all of the decayed dentin up to the pulp. This may cause some bleeding, which we'll stop, and then clean and dry the tooth area.
We'll then apply a protective biocompatible material directly over the pulp to promote healing and protect it from further infection. We then restore the tooth's appearance and function with a life-like filling.
We use the indirect method, a two-part process separated by six to eight months, when the pulp tissue is close to the surface but not yet exposed. We initially remove the majority of decayed tooth structure, but leave some of it in place next to the pulp chamber. Although this remaining dentin is softened and decayed, we'll treat it with antibacterial chemicals, then cover it with a biocompatible material and a temporary filling.
Over the next several months the treated structure has a chance to re-mineralize as it heals. We then remove the temporary filling and assess the level of healing progress. If the regenerated dentin appears healthy, we can then remove any remaining decay and restore the teeth as we would after a direct pulp capping.
At the very least, pulp capping could buy your affected tooth time before a root canal will finally be needed. Under the right circumstances, it's an effective way to save an otherwise lost tooth.
If you would like more information on tooth decay treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pulp Capping: A Procedure that may Save a Decayed Tooth.”