May 2015

Diving and the Dentist

By Mike Waddington

Not many scuba divers would think that a pre-dive holiday trip to the dentist is important, but the health of your mouth is just as important as the health of the rest of your body. Many of us would dive for a life time and never have any kind of real diving dental problems, but occasionally they do happen, and when they do, they can be very painful. The term ‘Divers mouth syndrome’ covers all areas of dental troubles after diving, but we can actually be more specific than that and look directly at the different issues some divers may encounter while underwater, and how to fix them.

Barodontalgia ‘Tooth Squeeze’
A squeeze can occur as we descend during a dive because the surrounding pressure is compressing any air spaces that are in our body. It is common for new divers to have problems with equalising their ears to start with, but there are also other air spaces found in the body that can cause problems for us. Mask squeeze is again common for beginner divers who forget to equalise their mask, which usually results in the diver looking somewhat like a panda. Although rare, it is possible to get gas trapped within our teeth, causing what is called Barodontalgia, or more commonly known as “tooth squeeze”. This can occur within holes in the teeth, unfinished root canal, a bad filling, gum disease or an abscess. If gas were to get trapped in a tooth, then when the diver might feel intense pain in the affected tooth or area upon ascent. Symptoms of a tooth squeeze while diving include toothache, broken, chipped or cracked tooth, bleeding and potential for the affected tooth to explode (although this is almost unheard of).

If this happens then it might take some time for the pain to go away. You can take over the counter pain killers such as Ibuprofen which will help deal with any gum swelling, and take some of the pain away too. Preventive care can almost eliminate the risk of tooth squeeze while scuba diving. Regular dental check-ups are as important for your diving as getting your regulator serviced. You don’t need to see a diving dentist, but it might be good to mention to them that you are an avid diver. The dentist might pay special attention to potential problem areas such as crowns and fillings, and advise whether or not they are in suitable diving condition.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder ‘TMD’
If you have ever felt that you jaw is a bit stiff after a dive, then you are not alone. Approximately two thirds of scuba divers will experience an aching jaw at some point in their diving career. Although we may not be aware of it, while diving we are constantly lightly biting down on the mouth pieces that are holding our regulators (large, heavy and non-streamlined) firmly in our mouth. The problem is that all of our mouths are different shapes and sizes, and teeth vary massively from one diver to the next. The standard mouth piece used is not a one size fits all, so a large percentage of us will need to lock our jaws in unnatural positions for our dives. With average dive times of 45 minutes to an hour, it is easy to understand why so many divers have this problem. Beginners are particularly at risk because lack of experience often creates anxiety. Common symptoms of anxiety include clenching the jaw or teeth grinding, which will increase the tension in the mouth, and increases the problem.

Signs and symptoms that your mouth piece is not right for you include; Jaw pain, headaches, neck aches, spasms, lock jaw, clicking or cracking sounds with jaw movement, change in teeth alignment and localised tooth pain. Also if you feel that you chew through your mouth piece quicker than everyone else in the water, then you should consider changing the style.

Luckily there is an easy solution to TMD. Simply change the mouth piece you are using. Online is the best place to look at the options for mouth pieces, but you will only know when you actually take them for a dive. As they are cheap it isn’t too difficult to shop around until you find one that is just right for you. You can also get mouth pieces for diving that are made of a material that is mouldable when wet, just like mouth shields for contact sports. These offer all your teeth complete support and as they fit your mouth perfectly, they should help put a stop to TMD. They are also made of a strong material that will take thousands of dives to chew through, so it could be that you won’t need to replace your mouth piece until your teeth start changing!

Many people find the dentist a little scary, so much so that they would rather sit and suffer than have a doctor poke around their mouth. But would you want a tooth ache to ruin your diving trip? If not then make sure to look after your teeth and regularly see a dentist (every 6 months, or at the very least, once a year). Discuss with them that you are a diver so they will check there is nothing that could cause you underwater grief. I have known divers that found that tooth squeeze has been so bad it put them off diving for years! Don’t let that happen to you!

‘Diving and the Dentist’ was written by Mike

Photo Credit: Pierre-Alexandre Girard

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!

Qualifications:

PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia