A Dental Blog Focused on Improving Oral and Dental Health

Can a Sinus Infection Be Caused by a Tooth?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post discussing sinus infections, prompted by my wife's experience.  She had severe tooth pain caused by a sinus infection.  While that post discusses how a sinus infection can cause tooth pain, it never addressed the opposite question: Can a tooth cause a sinus infection?

Sinuses are simply chambers in your head that allow air to circulate to get warm and moist before it travels down to  your lungs.  Normally, the body is able to keep the sinuses clean and healthy, despite the dark, moist environment that bacteria love.

However, when conditions are right, bacteria can grow out of control in the sinuses, causing a sinus infection.  One cause of sinus infections is the common cold.  Interestingly enough, teeth can also cause sinus infections.

Before we get into a discussion on how teeth can cause sinus infections, we'll talk about where the sinuses are located.

Where Are Sinuses Located?

There are a few different sinuses located in the facial area — around the cheeks, nose, and above the eyes.   The diagram below gives you a little better idea of where the sinuses are, and how they look when they are healthy, versus how they look when they are infected.

How Sinusitis Can Cause a Toothache

If you look at the diagram above and imagine a row of upper teeth, you can see how the roots of the upper teeth come into close contact with those sinuses on each side of the nose.   These sinuses are known as the maxillary sinuses.  While there are several sets of sinuses, the maxillary sinuses are the only sinuses that can also be infected by a tooth-related problem.

How Often Do Teeth Cause Sinus Infections?

Hupp's Contemporary Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery textbook states, "Periapical or periodontal infections of maxillary posterior teeth may erode superiorly through the floor of the maxillary sinus.  Approximately 20% of cases of maxillary sinusitis are odontogenic."

Basically, that's a fancy way of saying that tooth and gum abscesses of the upper back teeth can eat through the bone and invade the maxillary sinus.  It further says that about 20% of all maxillary sinus infections are caused by tooth infections, rather than another cause.

Below, you'll find a couple of examples of how tooth infections or abscesses can cause sinus infections.

A Case of an Abscess Close to the Sinuses

Here is an x-ray of a tooth that had a root canal and crown done previously, but the infection at the roots had never quite healed.  I have outlined some of the important structures below for those of you who are not accustomed to reading x-rays.

Abscess Near Sinus in a Molar

I colored the sinus blue and the tooth infection red in the x-ray below:

As you can imagine, the infection and the sinuses do overlap, as you can see in the x-ray below.

Abscess Near Sinus in a Molar Abscess and Sinus Outlined

Although it looks like the sinus and the infection are overlapped on the x-ray, it doesn't necessarily mean that the infection has broken into the sinus and causing a sinus infection.  It could be that the abscess is either in front of or behind the sinus in this x-ray, because the x-ray is simply a snapshot of the whole area and doesn't tell us if things are closer to the front or the back.

If you take a look at the x-ray above, you can see how close the maxillary sinus is to the upper teeth.  Sometimes there is only a thin membrane separating the roots of the upper teeth and the sinus, making it very easy for an infection to travel into the sinuses.

Although this person wasn't exhibiting any symptoms of a sinus infection, but the x-rays do a good job of showing just how close the abscess is to the sinus.

A Case of Sinusitis Caused by a Tooth

This person had chronic sinusitis for the last few years, that started shortly after she had a metal post put into one of her upper back teeth.  Upon looking at her x-rays I noticed that the metal post that was put in one of her upper teeth looked like it had pierced through edge of the tooth and gone slightly into the bone.  This caused an abscess that was leaking into her sinus.

Here's the x-ray of her upper right teeth:

Sinus Infection Caused by a Tooth Abscess

To make the x-ray below easier to see, the tooth is green, the infection is red, and the sinuses are blue:

Sinus Infection Caused by a Tooth Abscess with Abscess, Tooth, and Sinuses Outlined

Sadly, due to the fracture in the tooth caused by the large metal post, the tooth had to be extracted.

The oral surgeon who extracted the tooth told me that the tip of the tooth broke off just above the metal post, causing the root fragment to get pushed into the sinuses during extraction.  He had to open up the sinus to retrieve the root and he was able to suction out a lot of the infection — he said it was a pretty bad infection.

Teeth Can Cause Sinus Infections

While sinus infections can cause teeth to to hurt, hopefully this post has helped you see that infections from the upper back teeth can easily make their way into the sinuses and cause sinus infections.

It is important to remember that unhealthy teeth are just one cause of sinus infections, and that there are several other causes.  If you suspect your sinus infection is caused by a tooth, you should see your dentist to confirm this.

Do you have any questions, concerns, or comments?   Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Top Image © Lightspring/Shutterstock.com
Sinusitis Diagram © Alila Medical Media/Shutterstock.com
All Other Images © OralAnswers.com

I recently updated the website and it reset all of the sharing counters to 0. If you found this post helpful, please like, tweet, or +1 it. Thanks!

Share, Bookmark, or Email  

12 Comments |  Leave A Comment

  1. Im glad i read this article. I didnt know how close the maxillary sinus are to the teeth. I am in a great deal of pain. My ear nose tounge head and upper left teeth hurt. I went to a family doctor and she told me that everything was altight and i had probably sinus and it was nothing she can do. She told me to take some ibuprofen for the pain, and over the counter medicine. Im still in pain and after reading this article i decided to call my dentist. Last year i was experiencing a similar pain, and i have a root canal in one of my left teeth. I can not believe this may happen again in the same side . I was hopping it was just a sinus problem, i dont know why my nerves are dying since i take good care of my tooth.....

    • Glad it helped, Irene. There is a possibility that there is some residual infection around the tooth with the root canal, and that could cause sinus issues as well. I hope your dentist can pinpoint the problem for you - Have a great day!

  2. I have been battling allergies late this season due to our late spring season this year. My sinuses started hurting over a week ago.. first the right side and now the left.. the left side is worse and I have a lime green thick mucus that is hard to discharge. Yesterday I had some mild pain in my back upper teeth especially in the eye tooth. Today it is unbearable so I have started amoxicillin and am looking for some home remedies for the tooth pain... it is worse than any abscess or cavity I have ever experienced!!.. any suggestions??.. I cannot touch them together and any talking, eating is just plain unbearable. Thank you for any tips you may have.

  3. Like stated sometimes it is very difficult to ascertain whether the abscess is really into the sinus. Thats why everyone needs a 3D tomo, In this day and age, they are just so cost prohibitive. As always the pricing over the years should come down.

    And of course we get a lot of false alarms too, where we have molars with no fillings with no signs of fractures and they say that their teeth are throbbing. Usual signs they say are that their teeth feel taller or sensitive to bite. And it only takes radiographic evaluation to realize that the sinuses are draped over the molar and premolar roots and they are congested.

  4. can a tooth infection cause tinnitus

  5. I have had a problem with my sinuses ever since I had my teeth cleaned in Feb of this year.
    I went to the doctor and she put me on antibiotics over 5 times and they never cleared up the infection because I still have pain in one side of my nostril on the right side and my right ear hurts and I have swelling on the right side of my throat that feels like an infection. I have had this problem ever since they worked on one of my front teeth that had a cavity in it. I can't see the cavity anymore because they filled it in with a feeling but
    I have had pain in it ever since they drilled in it and whenever I drink cold or warm stuff the sensitivity is horrible. I think it is a teeth problem probably a sinus tooth infection and Im going to a dentist to maybe get a root canal in it because I cannot stand the pain anymore and the pain infects my ear and my other teeth.
    I have had this problem for over 4 months now and I cant stand it anymore.

    I had a really bad tooth infection in 2012 in one of my molars and a doctor tried to tell me it was a really bad sinus infection but this tooth caused me so much pain that my dentist said it could have killed me because my tooth had a hole inside of it and he said that I started developing bad swelling in my cheek.
    So I had to have my tooth removed and thank God I did. But before I had the tooth removed the doctor that I saw gave me amoxicillan so at least that helped my swelling but very little until I had my tooth removed.

    I hope I don't have to have my front tooth removed I hope I can get a root canal done instead. I'd just rather get dentures if I could do anything then maybe I wouldn't have these sinus problems?

    Because usually when I get sinus or allergy problems its just from the summer or winter because of the seasonal allergy problems but nothing like I have had this year.

  6. Thanks for good information. I have tooth infection and was so useful for me

  7. Bacteria in your mouth can buildup and eventually cause a tooth infection,which in turn may spread to the sinus. The first maxillary molar,s one of the largest and strongest teeth in the upper jaw is usually the culprit because of its proximity to the maxillary sinus.The mucus must move upwards to drain from the sinus into the nose,which does not happen when standing up and thus the sinus gets infected more frequently than the other air cavities.

  8. Can a sinus infection cause pain in your lower jaw? I have swelling in my lower left jaw and pain in my left ear. I went to the doctor and was told that I do not have an ear infection.

  9. Hi, I have a problem with one of my teeth that has had a root canal done then crowned then the root canal redone by a specialist then recrowned. The tooth is on the right upper and forth from the back. The problem seems to occur when I get a cold, with pressure build up and a bad smell coming from around the top of the crown. My dentist tells me to rinse wth salt and hot water but it comes back. Any ideas?

  10. It is common that a Crown tend to leave a Oder in the mouth my suggestion to you
    Is every morning and evening use a water pik and add 2 ounces of mouth wash
    To the water bin for your water pik. After brushing your teeth!!! Hope this helps...

    • Hi Angela,

      No, it's not common that crowns cause bad odor. A single crown should not. But *clumsily made* crowns cause odor if they are designed as food traps. 'Flossability' needs to be tested before permanently cementing a crown. Do hyper-busy dentists have the time for that? I hope so.

      Dental bridges, however, if not taken care of extremely well, commonly cause bad breath. In this case, your waterpik suggestion makes sense. Use all you have in your hygiene-arsenal if you have a bridge (or a crown that traps food) - special floss-holders for bridge wearers, waterpik, mouthwash, thin-bristled toothbrush!

      One word to mouthwash: use NON-ALCOHOLIC ones (better for your gum health) & rotate through a few brands - bacteria will get used / resistant to one type after a few weeks.

      Hope it helped,

      Nils

Leave a Response


Disclaimer

This site is intended for educational, informative, and entertainment purposes only. It should not replace a visit to a health professional. Only a health professional that is examining you in person, with a patient-doctor relationship can truly understand your unique situation. Click here to read the full disclaimer of Oral Answers.

Participate

Thanks for stopping by Oral Answers! Did you know that every article has a lively discussion in the comments section? There's no need to even register to leave a comment, although you might want to read the commenting guidelines.

Want an icon to show up when you leave a comment? On this gravatar-enabled site, all you have to do is upload your custom icon at Gravatar.com.

You can also subscribe to our RSS feed and get updates whenever a new article is posted!

About Me

Tom, Creator of Oral AnswersHi, I'm Tom. I recently graduated from dental school and am now a dentist in Bridgewater, Virginia. I started this blog to help people take better care of their teeth. You can learn more about me or ask me a question.

Thanks for stopping by!