Updated: Sep 5
Your teeth are hurting but so is your back. Are they possibly correlated and can one lead to the other or is it simply all in your head? Let's explore whether or not it is possible for your teeth to cause you back pain.
Table of Contents:
Can a toothache cause back pain?
Fortunately, your toothache cannot concurrently cause you pain in your back. If you're having pain in both places, they're most likely unrelated but just happen to coincidentally occur at the same time.
The main reason why they're uncorrelated is because the nerves that control sensation for your teeth are completely different than those of your lower back. The back is a vast place and it includes the neck, upper back, and lower back thus all have different nerves for each region.
Teeth nerves. The sensations for all of your teeth are innervated by the Trigeminal Nerve, which is also known as cranial nerve V.
Neck nerves. Your neck is mostly innervated by the cervical nerves.
Lower back nerves. These are controlled by the lumbar nerves.
This means that they're on separate nerves so if you're feeling pain in both locations, you're most likely getting two separate pain signals. If they were on the same nerve then your teeth would be able to cause you back pain.
Perception of back pain from your teeth
Even though your teeth don't cause back pain directly, it can give you the perception of pain coming from there. The two mechanisms for how this happens is through referred pain and hypersensitivity.
Referred pain is a phenomenon where the location you feel pain isn't actually what is causing you pain. Instead, the source of the pain is in a different but close by location that doesn't feel painful. Only the location that it refers to is painful and not the source.
For example, there have been reports about patients experiencing dental pain right before a heart attack. Of course, it isn't your teeth that caused you the heart attack but rather the heart attack is referring pain to your teeth, making you think it is your teeth that are hurting.
In our case, since the nerves of the teeth are close by to the upper back nerves, you may feel like you have upper back pain if your teeth are hurting. This does not mean that the upper back hurts but your body is making it seem as if the upper back is the source of the pain.
Studies have shown that chronic pain and inflammation can cause nerve hypersensitivity. What this means is that nerves that are normally NOT stimulated may become stimulated by stimuli that don't usually trigger pain.
Therefore if you've been having chronic teeth inflammation, there could be a chance that maybe the nerves in your back could be hypersensitized and elicit pain signals. Its a possibility!
Why do we sometimes get back pain after dental treatment?
The teeth may not cause you extraneous bodily pain BUT getting dental treatment can potentially cause you back pain. It is not unusual to leave the dental office with a crick in your neck or soreness in your back because most procedures will take about an hour to complete.
You're basically lying supine in a chair and forced to lift your chin up while keeping your mouth wide open for the entire hour. That requires a lot of muscle endurance can certainly contribute to muscle aches and soreness afterwards.
Lower back pain after dental work
Most modern dental chairs ergonomic and can support your lower back while you're getting treatment but older models are not as comfortable. If your dentist's office isn't modern and looks like it could use an update, the chairs are probably not the most ergonomic.
It wouldn't be unusual to leave with some aches if you've had a long appointment. The pictures above show a comparison between a vintage dental chair vs a modern one.
Neck and back pain after wisdom teeth removal
Having your wisdom teeth removed isn't the most pleasant experience and what makes it worse is if they are impacted in the bone. If they are, the oral surgeon may sometimes need to apply extra force to be able to get them out of your mouth. In the process, your neck and torso may be moved in certain ways that you may end up with neck pain and possibly back pain after the procedure is done.
Your teeth can't cause you back pain because the teeth are on separate nerves from your back. With that being said, you may coincidentally feel pain in your back or neck from the dental procedure itself especially if it is a long appointment. Its not the most ergonomic position to be in while laying down, cranking your chin up and keeping your mouth wide open.
Last but not least, it is possible to be placed in an uncomfortable position if you're undergoing a difficult dental procedure such as having your wisdom teeth removed.
Despite the potential negatives, it is still recommended that you get your dental check up and teeth cleaning twice a year. Most modern dental offices nowadays have very ergonomic dental chairs that are extremely comfortable. If your dentist is still using an old chair, perhaps it is time to see a new dentist!
The author: Written by Dr David Chen, a long island city dentist focusing on general and cosmetic dentistry.