Why do we get earaches, headaches and toothaches on a plane?

When was your last plane ride? You may have needed to travel for business, a family holiday or for leisure. In this day and age, everything is faster and the last thing you need are toothaches. Flying to destinations is therefore becoming more and more favoured over other modes of transport. Whether for work or pleasure, it sure is best to fly comfortably! So why do some of us get earaches, headaches and toothaches when we fly? The main culprit is air pressure. Read on to find out how air pressure causes these problems and how to prevent them in the first place. If you are planning a trip, the best travel insurance is visiting a dentist before you fly. Need a friendly, local family dentist? Call Riverstone Family Dental on 8678 3538 today. When it comes to oral health, prevention is key!

Flying and air pressure

When we are on land going about our day-to-day activities, the air pressure in our body and the air pressure outside us is almost the same. However, when flying, the air pressure changes frequently, especially during ascent and descent. The change in altitude can be so rapid, the pressure inside our body and the air pressure outside do not have time to equalize. People get earaches because the air pressure inside the ear quickly becomes greater than the cabin pressure. This causes the eardrum to expand. If the air pressure inside the ear quickly becomes less than the external air pressure, the eardrum will be ‘sucked’. Headaches when flying are known as aerosinusitis. Internal and external air pressure differences result in expansion of your blood vessels and inflammation in your paranasal sinuses. This causes headaches. Other causes of headaches include change in weather, dehydration, stress and strong odours.

What is Barodontalgia?

Barodontalgia is the intense toothache you may get when flying in a plane and the air pressure changes. Cabin pressure can intensify pain due to air trapped inside your teeth. But how do you know if you have air trapped in your teeth? Quite simply, you may have air pockets in your teeth if you have unresolved tooth decay or old and leaky fillings.

  • Tooth Decay – when decay starts to infect a tooth, it slowly breaks the tooth down, bringing air into the tooth.
  • Filling – older fillings can have microscopic openings that lead to trapped air pockets. A filling can also have air bubbles accidentally incorporated into it during dental treatment. Trapped air cannot cope with the swift pressure in the cabin and this leads to a toothache.


Tips for preventing earaches, headaches and toothaches


  • Swallowing – the act of swallowing moves an air bubble from the back of your nose into the middle ear, ensuring that air pressure in and out stays equal.
  • Chewing gum or sucking on hard sugar-free lozenges –  this helps to stimulate constant swallowing.
  • Valsalva maneuver – do this gently to allow air out until your ears pop. Close your mouth with a mouthful of air and pinch your nose. Note this is not recommended for those with colds, allergies or sinus problems.



  • Ibuprofen before boarding – take one to two hours before takeoff. It is best to take it before symptoms start, however, if you start to feel a headache coming, pop a dose on board. Note – only take ibuprofen as advised by your doctor. Some people cannot take this medication so check with your doctor prior to taking it.
  • Food selection – skip foods that can trigger headaches such as cheese, chocolate, red wine, processed meats, foods high in sugar, alcohol and coffee.
  • Hydration – drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. Did you know that dehydration is the number one cause of headaches? So get sipping on that good stuff!
  • Rest – a well-rested body can be prepared for anything. Try to get rest on board as this will minimise the effects of jet lag and changes to your sleep cycle.



  • Dental visit before flight – by and far the most effective way to prevent a toothache while flying. Get your teeth checked and clean and ensure your x-rays are up to date. This will allow your dentist to see if there are any issues with your existing fillings or if tooth decay is starting in any of your teeth. Learn more about Riverstone Family Dental’s Dental Services or call us on 8678 3538.
  • Painkillers – medication may or may not work. Pack some with you in your hand luggage just in case you feel a toothache coming on.
  • Quality dental treatment – quality is the difference between costly, multiple visits and a single, effective treatment. A quality dentist will accurately diagnose and safely address issues early on.
  • Sinusitis treat sinus issues before flying. Sinus issues can refer pain towards the mouth, making it seem like you have a toothache.

Unlike earaches and headaches, there is not much of a choice to prevent a toothache when flying but to see your dentist before your flight. Chewing gum or swallowing will not work. If you fly often, and your toothache occurred once, it will happen again on your next flight, and the next, until you have your tooth problem fixed. A terrible toothache is the last thing you’d want when flying. Riverstone Family Dental is a new and local accredited dental practice in Northwest Sydney. Find out why families are choosing this dental clinic today: 8678 3538.

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