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January 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Getting Your Teeth into Scuba

from the January, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Do you find that your jaw aches or your teeth hurt after a long dive? Does the pain mysteriously disappear once you've surfaced?

A new pilot study by researchers at the University of Buffalo found that 41 per cent of divers experienced dental symptoms in the water. Due to the constant clenching of that regulator mouthpiece and fluctuations in the ambient pressure underwater with varying depth, divers may experience symptoms that range from tooth, jaw and gum pain to loosened crowns and broken dental fillings. So, you may want to stop by their dentist's before taking your next dip in the ocean.

Vinisha Ranna, lead author and a student in the UB School of Dental Medicine say, "Divers are required to meet a standard of medical fitness before certification, but there are no dental health prerequisites."

The study, entitled "Prevalence of Dental Problems in recreational SCUBA divers," was published last month in the British Dental Journal.

The research was inspired by Ranna's experience learning to scuba in 2013. Although she enjoyed it, she couldn't help notice a squeezing sensation in her teeth, a condition known as barodontalgia. Of the 41 people who participated in her initial research, 42 percent experienced barodontalgia, 24 per cent discomfort from holding the regulator mouthpiece too tightly and 22 percent reported jaw pain. Five percent noted the loosening of crowns and one person suffered a broken dental filling.

The study also found that pain was most commonly reported in the molars. Active dive instructors experienced dental symptoms most frequently of all, likely attributed to more time spent at shallower depths where the pressure fluctuations are the greatest. With more than 24 million certified divers around the world, Ranna hopes to see oral health incorporated into the overall health assessments for diving certification.

She says that patients should ensure that dental decay and restorations are addressed before a dive, and mouthpiece design should be evaluated by qualified dentist practitioners to prevent jaw discomfort, particularly when investigating symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder in divers. TMD is a problem affecting the 'chewing' muscles and the joints between the lower jaw and the base of the skull.

Ranna is conducting a follow-up study with an expanded group of more than 1,000 participants. "An unhealthy tooth underwater would be much more obvious than on the surface," she said. "One hundred feet underwater is the last place you want to be with a fractured tooth.

Ironically, many dentists are scuba divers.

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