Pilot study finds that nearly half of divers experience dental problems

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Pilot study finds that nearly half of divers experience dental problems

December 26, 2016 - 08:24
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About 41 percent of divers have experienced dental symptoms in the water, according to a study by the University at Buffalo (UB).

Lead author Vinisha Ranna, BDS, swims near underwater wreckage in Sri Lanka.

Due to the constant jaw clenching and fluctuations in the atmospheric pressure underwater, divers may experience symptoms ranging from tooth, jaw and gum pain to loosened crowns and broken dental fillings. Recreational divers should consult their dentist before diving if they recently received dental care, said lead author Vinisha Ranna, BDS, a student in the UB School of Dental Medicine.

The research was inspired by her first experience with scuba diving in 2013. Although she enjoyed being in the water, she noticed a squeezing sensation in her teeth, a condition known as barodontalgia. She is now a certified stress and rescue scuba diver with 60 dives under her belt.

Published research on dental symptoms experienced while scuba diving is scarce or focuses largely on military divers, said Ranna, so she created an online survey that was distributed to 100 certified recreational divers.

Her goal was to identify the dental symptoms that divers experience and detect trends in how or when they occur.

Of the 41 participants who reported dental symptoms, 42 percent experienced barodontalgia, 24 percent described pain from holding the air regulator in their mouths too tightly and 22 percent reported jaw pain. Another five percent noted that their crowns were loosened during their dive, and one person reported a broken dental filling.

Ranna elaborated, “The dry air and awkward position of the jaw while clenching down on the regulator is an interesting mix. An unhealthy tooth underwater would be much more obvious than on the surface. One hundred feet underwater is the last place you want to be with a fractured tooth.”

The study also found that pain was most commonly reported in the molars and that dive instructors, who require the highest level of certification, experienced dental symptoms most frequently. This is likely due to the fact that they spent more time at shallower depths where pressure fluctuations are the greatest, said Ranna.

Currently, divers are required to meet a standard of medical fitness before they are certified, but this does not cover any dental prerequisites. As scuba diving gains popularity as a recreational sport, Ranna hopes to see oral health incorporated into the overall health assessments for certification. She adds that patients should ensure that dental decay and restorations be addressed before a dive, and mouthpiece design be evaluated by dentists to prevent jaw discomfort, particularly when investigating symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder.

Ranna is conducting a follow-up study with an expanded group of more than 1,000 participants.

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