Beware of exploding teeth – why flying could make your fillings go pop

Believe it or not, fillings can leave your mouth at risk of exploding teeth. Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care explains more

They're smiling now, but in extreme cases air pockets in fillings can cause teeth to explode...
They're smiling now, but in extreme cases air pockets in fillings can cause teeth to explode...

"Can your teeth explode when flying?" my teenage son inquired hopefully as we boarded the plane for our summer hols this year.

My affirming answer was prefaced by rapidly demolishing his gleeful image of a ferocious volcanic dental eruption spluttering out flying shards of enamel and globules of blood in some unfortunate victim's mouth.

Travellers' Tooth Squeeze, otherwise known as Aerodontalgia, is due to brutal air pressure changes causing slumbering air pockets beneath fillings to dance a painful tune to the laws of physics. Most of us have experienced popping ears when we fly and when a similar state of affairs happens inside a tooth, it's a rotten start to the holiday.

Deep sea divers and pilots are particularly susceptible to aerodontalgia. As one dives deeper any concealed air around a filling is squeezed by the intense pressures, leaving the outer walls of a tooth unsupported and implosions imminent.

The reverse happens when we ascend during flying. At 30,000 feet the air becomes very thin and this drop in air pressure causes any air bubbles to expand relentlessly forcing the tooth walls outward and ending in an agonising rupture.

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If you are relatively lucky you may only experience a sharp squeezing sensation without the tooth falling apart. If the pain is more intense when you take off this is signalling that the nerve of the tooth is in the mildly unhappy state called pulpitis.

Pulpitis is a tooth reacting to a growing balloon lesion of decay in the outer enamel slowly creeping toward the tooth's inner nerve chamber called the pulp.

On the other hand, if you have more bother with a tooth on both ascent and descent then the tooth nerve may have given up the ghost altogether and died completely which leads to the formation of an escalating abscess.

If you are considering scuba diving or are worried about flying due to the condition of your teeth, ask your dentist to do a thorough check-up. Close inspection and X-rays can reveal any decay, deficient margins around fillings, or root abscesses which many times aren't giving the least bit of pain on terra firma and exist in people's mouths without the owner having the least clue that they are there.