It’s fall and pretty soon everyone you know is going to be coughing and sneezing. And then it will be your turn. There’s really no way to avoid at least a short illness over the winter, especially if you have kids.

But sometimes your cold or flu symptoms linger on. They don’t go away as they should, and they may even worsen. You might think you have developed a sinus infection, but is that really what you’ve got? It’s possible you’ve got an infected tooth, and that won’t get better without dental care.

Here’s how to tell the difference.

Young man with a handkerchief. Is it an infection in his sinuses or a bad tooth

Why Sinus and Tooth Infections Get Confused

It might seem like the two conditions should be very distinct. These are two different places being infected, so how can they be confused?

The problem is that the two conditions have many overlapping symptoms. These can include:

  • Pain in the face
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

People who get these symptoms during cold and flu season tend to assume that they’re either related to their cold or that they’re from a secondary infection, like a sinus infection.

However, these symptoms might be related to a tooth infection that has been growing steadily, but advanced suddenly when your body’s immune system was taxed by sickness.

Plus, many of the things we do when we’re sick can fuel the growth of oral bacteria. Cold syrups and cough drops are often full of sugar, and sipping tea with honey in it all give oral bacteria a steady supply of food so they can grow all day long. A clogged nose can force you to breathe through your mouth, which dries out the mouth, creating an environment that’s perfect for oral bacteria to thrive. And to top it all off, some people skip brushing and flossing when they’re feeling bad.

So it’s almost as likely that a long cold could cause a small cavity to turn into a tooth infection as it could cause a sinus infection.

How to Distinguish Infections

So with many overlapping symptoms and the potential that both could be linked to a cold, how do you tell which type of infection you have? Look for the symptoms that can distinguish the conditions. With a tooth infection, you are likely to experience one or more of the following:

  • Tenderness and swelling around tooth
  • Discharge from tooth or gums
  • Foul taste in the mouth or persistent bad breath
  • Pimple-like sore on gums
  • Discolored tooth

On the other hand, if you have:

  • Postnasal drip
  • Nasal congestion
  • Tenderness and swelling in the nose

You are more likely to have a sinus infection.

Another strategy is to start by assuming that you have a sinus infection and treat it accordingly. Antibiotics work well to control sinus infections, but they are not very effective against tooth infections. If antibiotics seem to get the infection under control temporarily, but they keep coming back, it’s likely that you have an infected tooth and should see a dentist.

Treating a tooth infection is more difficult than just using antibiotics. Root canal therapy can take care of the infection and restore the tooth if it’s not too badly damaged. However, in some cases, we might recommend removing the tooth and replacing it with a dental bridge or dental implant.

Are You Looking for Relief in the Sydney Area?

Many people struggle for months with what they think are sinus infections, only to discover that it’s actually their teeth that are infected. If you have been fighting a sinus infection all winter long (or even since last winter), but haven’t had your teeth checked, we can help.

Please call (02) 9686 7375 today for an appointment with a Sydney area dentist at My Hills Dentist in Baulkham Hills.