Scuba Divers Have Special Dental Risks
Scuba divers should consult their dentists periodically to prevent a condition known as “diver’s mouth syndrome,” says Dr. Ryne Johnson, regarded as Boston’s best prosthodontist and managing partner of Newton Wellesley Dental Partners.
Diver’s mouth syndrome, known technically as barodontalgia, can include gum problems, pain in the jaw joint, or a condition known as “tooth squeeze,” in which changing pressure causes pain in the center of a tooth. “Many divers drag the bulky air regulator through the water with their teeth, and this can cause stress or damage to the oral cavity. Divers may bite too hard on the mouthpiece which can lead to pain in the jaw joint and gum lacerations. Complicating this problem is the fact that most standard mouthpieces are too small for most people and only support the very back teeth. Divers really have to work to keep their lips pursed around these small pieces of rubber.”
But the problem, he says, is easily remedied. “If a diver feels pain or soreness in the jaw, he or she should consult with a dentist,” says Dr. Johnson. “A custom-fitted mouthpiece is available in most scuba shops that will support all of the teeth, so these problems can be avoided.”
Tooth squeeze can occur when a cavity, a deteriorated or broken dental filling, a dental abscess or an incomplete root canal has developed an air space and reacts to the changing pressure once the diver is under water. It can occur both in descent and ascent as can other squeeze problems. “It can be very painful, but the irony is that many divers do not feel it because of the exhilarating experience they feel at being in the water. When divers do feel tooth squeeze, they should schedule a dentist visit to get the appropriate dental care.”
Dr. Johnson recommends that divers be in good dental health before diving. Be wary of scuba diving if you have recently undergone dental treatments in which there was a tooth extraction or if a tooth contains a temporary filling. “The change in pressure can cause severe pain and cause healing to take much longer,” says Dr. Johnson. “Be cautious if you have dentures. “Be sure they are well-fitted; have them relined or remade if necessary.”
Go to a dentist where you can be evaluated for joint pain or earaches. “Custom-made mouthpieces are readily available. Yes, they cost more, but you will be amazed at the difference,” says Dr. Johnson. “It’s worth the cost because the dive will be much more comfortable.”
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