All scuba divers understand that rigorous training is an essential prerequisite for anybody interested in taking up the sport. Scuba diving is a dangerous pastime, and while accidents are rare, around 100 divers in North America die annually. Scuba diving presents several health risks, but you may not previously have considered the possibility that this pastime could lead to tooth and jaw damage. Find out how scuba diving affects your teeth, and learn how to protect your mouth while you dive.
How scuba diving affects your body
All scuba divers must learn how to avoid pressure-related injuries. As you dive deeper, water pressure increases rapidly, placing your body under significant stress. Injury can occur if you cannot equalize the pressure between your body and the water around you. Dentists refer to this type of injury as barotrauma.
Barotrauma can occur in many parts of the body, but normally causes injury where you would naturally find air-filled spaces. For example, some divers experience sinus pain or a ruptured ear drum. Barotrauma can also rupture the air sacs in your lungs, causing breathing problems. Air bubbles in an artery can cause an arterial gas embolism, which could ultimately result in a heart attack or stroke.
How scuba diving can injure teeth
Some potential scuba diving injuries are not life-threatening, but you can still experience painful symptoms. For example, if you trap air particles in a dental filling or cavity as you descend, barotrauma can lead to an unpleasant symptom called tooth squeeze.
Tooth squeeze is more likely if you already have problems with your teeth. For example, divers with a cavity, temporary filling, abscess or cracked tooth are more prone to experience the symptoms of tooth squeeze because these problems allow the teeth to trap an air bubble. Symptoms include toothache that starts after a dive and bleeding gums. In serious cases, you may experience a broken tooth.
Dealing with tooth squeeze
When it comes to tooth squeeze, prevention is always better than cure, and it's vital that you make sure your teeth and gums are in good health before any dive. Talk to your dentist about any unusual symptoms, so you can arrange the right treatment for any problems he or she finds. It's particularly important to tell your dentist that you plan to go scuba diving, so he or she can complete treatments like a root canal or crown before your next trip.
Of course, some dental problems won't show symptoms before you dive, so all divers are at risk of tooth squeeze. You can deal with any immediate tooth pain with over-the-counter pain relief medications like ibuprofen. Seek dental treatment for serious damage or infection as soon as possible, and avoid any further diving until a dentist has treated the problem.
All scuba divers rely on a mouthpiece to breathe underwater. Unfortunately, a standard mouthpiece is often too small for most divers. A small mouthpiece can cause discomfort and gum lacerations, particularly if the diver bites too hard. Worse still, while you're concentrating on your dive, you may not notice these painful symptoms. When you leave the water, you may find that you experience lasting jaw pain.
This type of temporomandibular joint syndrome can cause ongoing problems. You may need pain relief medication or muscle relaxants to ease the inflammation. Physical therapy is also sometimes necessary, and serious cases may even need surgery.
If you regularly dive, it's a good idea to talk to your dentist about a custom-fitted mouthpiece. A special mouthpiece will offer better comfort during a dive and is less likely to cause a long-lasting injury.
Millions of Americans enjoy scuba diving, but you need to take precautions to avoid tooth and jaw injuries. Talk to a dentist at a clinic like Maplewood Dental Associates, PA for more advice.