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Tooth Squeeze in the Sky

Tooth Squeeze in the Sky

While racking up frequent flyer miles, some travelers may also experience bad breath and possibly a condition known as “tooth squeeze,” while flying the friendly skies.
 
Bad breath while traveling occurs as the salivary glands slow down the production of saliva, which allows bacteria to grow inside the mouth and bad breath to develop.  Many travelers alter their food intake while at the airport and on the plane, and may ignore their usual oral care hygiene routine.  It is also common for travellers to increase their fast food and pop intake, leaving food particles in the mouth that produce a sulfur compound and cause bad breath.
 
Choice of foods can also noticeably affect one’s breath.  Very spicy foods, such as onions and garlic, and coffee may be detected on a person’s breath for up to 72 hours after digestion. Onions, for example, are absorbed by the stomach and the odour is then excreted through the lungs.  Studies have shown that garlic rubbed on the soles of the feet can show up on the breath.
 
At the other end of the spectrum, bad breath can also be associated with hunger or fasting, which is also a common habit of some frequent fliers.  Be aware that even if you have brushed your teeth but have not eaten a meal all day, ‘morning mouth’ may reoccur later in the day.
 
Another condition that may happen while traveling but is less common than bad breath is commonly known as “tooth squeeze,” and formally called barodontalgia.  This is a toothache or dental pain resulting from any change in barometric pressure during flight.  The pain may, or may not, become more severe as altitude is increased, but descent almost invariably brings relief and ceases at ground level. The toothache often disappears at the same altitude at which it was first observed on ascent.
 
Scuba divers can also be afflicted by barodontalgia, and in miltary pilots an episode of dental pain from rapid changes in pressure can be severe enough to cause premature cessation of flights. 
 

Barodontalgia is a symptom of dental disease; common sources include abscesses or cavities, pulpitis, periodontal pockets and impacted teeth.  Any holiday travelers who experience a toothache at high altitudes should see a dentist without delay, for examination and treatment.

James Jung, DDS