Scuba divers should consult their dentists periodically to prevent a condition known as "diver's mouth syndrome," says a Chicago dentist and scuba diver.
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," explains Barbara Mousel, D.D.S., a general dentist who practices on Chicago's Northwest Side. "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, she says, is easily remedied. "If a diver feels pain or soreness in the jaw, he or she should consult with a dentist," says Dr. Mousel. "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," explains Dr. Mousel. "When divers do feel tooth squeeze, they should schedule a dentist visit to get the appropriate dental care."
The Chicago Dental Society 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. Mousel.
Be cautious if you have dentures. "Be sure they are well-fitted; have them relined or remade if necessary," she says.
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. Mousel. "It's worth the cost because the dive will be much more comfortable."
Dr. Mousel says that roughly four million people in the United States participate in scuba diving. "I love diving but I also know how to protect my teeth and jaws when I'm on a dive," she concludes. When you go under, you want to bring back good memories not a dental problem that needs immediate attention to fix.
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