Cavity Vs. The Common Cold: How To Tell The Difference

Your teeth can be under a lot of pressure when you're sick with the common cold or a sinus infection. Pressure from head congestion, infection, and inflammation can cause your upper teeth to ache due to your maxillary sinuses being close neighbors to your upper tooth roots. 

After contracting an illness, it's not uncommon to begin experiencing tooth pain and sensitivity, which leaves many patients wondering if their teeth are sensitive because they're ill, or if there is a dental issue that needs attention. Here's how to tell the difference between a cavity and the common cold. 

How Colds Can Cause Tooth Pain 

When you're sick, head congestion in your sinuses can put a lot of abnormal pressure on your upper teeth, which can easily translate to tooth pain. Your teeth may also be forced into a slightly off position due to swelling in your sinus cavities, causing misalignment when you bite down or chew. Allergies, colds, congestion, and infections can all cause irritation to your sinus tissue, which has a direct impact on how your teeth feel when you are sick. 

Sinus Pressure

Your body has several sinus cavities, and pain can emanate from any or all of them at once. If you have an infection in more than one sinus cavity, you may have additional pain behind the nose and eyes. Sinus pain typically manifests itself as a dull, continuous pain while the discomfort from an abscessed tooth increases in intensity. If you touch an abscessed tooth, you will likely feel a sharp jolt of pain. In acute cases, swollen sinus tissue can physically move the teeth slightly, changing your bite. The reverse scenario can also transpire if an infection surrounding an abscessed tooth travels to the sinus cavity. It is possible to suffer simultaneously from an abscessed tooth and a sinus infection, so always listen to what your body is telling you. 

Dry Mouth 

Nasal congestion is a common side effect of having a cold. This congestion can cause you to breathe through your mouth more often, which can quickly dry out your teeth, gums, and lips. Frequently coughing can also be a contributing factor. Since saliva is one of your mouth's most powerful defenses against tooth decay, dry mouth while you're sick can leave your teeth more vulnerable to plaque build-up and tooth decay. 

Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water when you're sick to relieve dry mouth and encourage saliva production. Decongestants and over-the-counter pain medications can also cause dry mouth as a common side effect, so be sure to follow all medicines with a glass of water.  

Sore Throat 

A sore throat happens quickly when facing the common cold. Symptoms of a sore throat usually present themselves alongside other indications, including coughing, sneezing, muscle, and joint aches, fatigue, and a runny nose. 

Bad Breath 

Postnasal drip is excess mucus that leaks into the back of your mouth and down your throat. Colds, allergies, and bacterial infections are all causes of postnasal drip. When this type of excessive mucus occurs, it creates an environment ripe for bacteria to multiply, which gives the mucus an odor. If you're experiencing bad breath during a cold, it is due to the bacteria in your postnasal drip. 

Ear Infections

Pain in the chest or ears can be a sign of an ear infection. The closeness of the ear to the jaw can cause you to feel pain in your teeth if you do have an ear infection and can be treated by a doctor.

If Your Cold Goes Away But Your Tooth Pain Does Not…

If your sinus or tooth pain does not subside and is lasting longer than a week, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor right away for an examination. Your doctor will be able to prescribe you an antibiotic to help combat any lingering infections. 


If your congestion subsides, but your tooth pain is still present, schedule an appointment with your dentist. A tooth abscess may be the cause of your discomfort, and tooth decay should be treated as soon as possible to save the tooth. Elite Dental & Denture PC is here to help you feel your best by keeping your smile as healthy as possible, so call us today with any questions regarding tooth pain and discomfort.

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