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Usually, a toothache is a sign that we're long overdue a visit to the dentist. Either that, or it's a sign of a perfectly treatable sinus infection. However, a toothache could be a sign of something more serious.
Here, we look at how our body's mixed signals could confuse you.
Toothache could mean a Heart Attack
If you are experiencing toothache on the left side of your jaw, especially toothache that worsens with physical activity or where your dentist can't find anything wrong, it could be a sign of heart trouble.
A 2009 study demonstrated that it was possible to tell the difference between toothache and pain referred from the chest by injecting anaesthetic into the gum. Pain that persists can be safely assumed to be referred chest pain, and not genuine toothache caused by a dental problem.
Furthermore, toothache often shows up before other heart symptoms (such as tightness or pain in the chest). One 48-year-old male was admitted to hospital with severe pains in his lower jaw, but no other symptoms of heart problems. An ECG showed that he already had changes to his heart function. Had he not been swiftly treated, he could have had a catastrophic cardiovascular event.
If you have toothache, your first port of call should probably be your dentist, but if you have a personal or family history of heart disease - or your toothache is accompanied by sweating or lightheadedness - you should raise the issue with a doctor and ask for an ECG.
See a Dentist if You Have Earache
If you have earache, and your doctor rules out an ear-infection, pay a visit to your dentist. A dental abscess can cause pain in the ear on the affected side. This is because the nerve channel runs from the jaw to the ear.
Although, usually, you will have pain in or around your affected tooth, the NHS warns that that is not always the case. If you have a dental (or "periodontal") abscess, it is important that you see your dentist, as the abscess will not go away by itself. It must be drained and may require additional antibiotics.
If the abscess is especially severe or recurrent, a root canal may be advised.
Get Your Stomach Checked If Your Shoulder Hurts
It was Valenzuela and colleagues who, in 1989, first noted that shoulder-pain could be an unusual symptom of stomach ulcer. The pain is commonly felt in the right shoulder, and (unlike other conditions) it does not improve, no matter what position you change into, regardless of splints and supports.
You should particularly consult a doctor about this pain if it is associated with vomit like coffee-grounds, nausea, and/or lightheadedness
Shoulder pain? Stomach fine? Check your chest.
If you have pain in your shoulder, neck and armpit, you should see your doctor. This is especially the case if you have been coughing for 3 weeks or more, and/or have a feeling of general weakness or malaise.
These symptoms could be signs of pneumonia.
Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose you by tapping on your chest. When you have pneumonia, your lungs are full of fluid. This makes a different sound than healthy lungs.
It's important you are correctly treated with rest and antibiotics. Incorrectly treated pneumonia can lead to complications.
Still got shoulder pain? Stomach and chest both tip-top? Consider:
- Your heart: While men usually have pain in their left shoulder and arm, women can have pain across both shoulders.
- Your gallbladder and pancreas: Gallstones and pancreatitis are both known to cause shoulder pain among their symptoms.
- Your spleen: Pain under the breastbone and into your left shoulder could be a sign of an inflamed spleen. This is uncommon in people who do not have underlying health complaints, or who are not frequent users of alcohol and/or recreational drugs
- Endometriosis: If endometriosis (where the lining of the womb grows outside the womb) grows in the abdominal cavity, it can cause right shoulder pain.