Headaches and Teeth: The Unexpected Connection
According to the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain, 80% of headaches are caused by muscle tension. Since much of muscle tension is related to how we bite, we’re not doing ourselves any favours when we continue to take pain medication and hope the problem will just go away. Instead, we need to tackle the potential link between Headaches and Teeth.
Teeth grinding adds stress and tension to your mouth, which can easily transfer to your head. Since teeth grinding often occurs during sleep, many people don’t even know they do it at all. To reduce teeth grinding, you can get a mouth guard from your dentist. You can also try some of these things:
- Reduce stress. Obviously this is easier said than done! Small things like meditating, spending time with family and friends and participating in recreational activities will all help to reduce your stress levels
- Eat healthy: fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Grinding intensifies after alcohol consumption, particularly while you sleep
- Avoid chewing non-food items (pencils, gum, etc.)
If you notice yourself grinding your teeth, stick the tip of your tongue between your teeth to relax your muscles.
Note that in addition to teeth grinding, teeth clenching and cheek biting add stress and tension to your mouth as well. All of these should be avoided to prevent headaches.
A misalignment or other issue with the jaw or jaw joint, typically labelled under the umbrella of TMD (temporomandibular disorders), can trigger headaches and even migraines. Since this condition causes jaw pain, a limited ability to open the mouth, difficulty chewing, facial swelling and a tired facial feeling, there’s little question as to how this pain could extend to the head.
If you suspect you have TMD, see a dentist. He or she will conduct a physical examination and prescribe a treatment plan, which may include medications, bite adjustment, implants, or in extreme cases, surgery.
You can also help the condition by:
- Eating soft foods
- Performing slow jaw exercises
- Sleeping on your side
- Relaxing facial muscles
- Avoiding jaw clenching and gum chewing
It’s interesting to note that TMD itself can be caused by problems in other parts of the body. For example, if your feet aren’t aligned properly, this can cause support issues in your back. These back issues can then translate into the neck and head, which results in TMD. The TMD can then cause headaches. A dentist is still best positioned to identify the root of the problem, and refer you to the necessary specialist to get you sorted.
Something as little as missing a tooth or having your teeth improperly aligned can cause your jaw muscles to work overtime to bring your teeth together every time you bite or swallow. (And you swallow about 2,000 times a day!) If your jaw and the muscles that hold up your head become strained, or if you suspect a poor bite is the cause of your headaches, see a dentist. He or she can:
- Recommend a night guard
- Reshape rough or irregular teeth
- Recommend braces or retainers to move your teeth into the right position
- Repair damaged dental work, such as fillings
- Recommend replacing a missing tooth, either with a dental bridge or even a dental implant
Headaches and toothaches all transmit from the same nerve, the trigeminal nerve, which is the largest sensory nerve in the head. So, a toothache can easily activate other branches of the nerve, leading to a headache.
Headaches could stem from the following dental issues:
- Tooth decay
- A tooth fracture
- A damaged filling
- An abscessed tooth
- Infected gums
If you have a headache you believe stems from a dental problem, see a dentist as soon as possible. He or she will perform the necessary procedure to relieve the pain, which may include filling cavities, performing a root canal, or extracting the decayed tooth. Prevent problems in the future by doing these things:
- Brush regularly
- Floss daily
- See your dentist twice a year
- Eat and drink foods and drinks low in sugar
You might get tired of hearing about the importance of brushing and flossing, but proper oral hygiene is, and always will be, the best way of preventing most oral health complications people run into.
And don’t forget your regular appointments with the dentist! We’ll see things you won’t, and might be able to detect an issue long before it starts to cause you any problems.
Headaches and Teeth: Muscle Imbalance/Tension
When any of the muscles that support your jaw, neck or shoulder tighten, your other muscles are forced to work harder to keep your head up. So, if the muscles in your jaw are sore from the way you bite or grind your teeth, the muscles become overworked and cause pain.
Similarly, when your jaw muscles are held tight for long periods of time, you’ll have muscle tension which can cause a tension headache. This tension could also cause pain behind the eyes and sore jaw muscles.
If tension from your jaw and mouth is transferring to your head, you may want to see a dentist. He or she will develop a treatment plan for your jaw or teeth. You may also be able to reduce muscle tension by reducing the physical and emotional stress in your life. This may include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating healthy foods
- Finding time to do hobbies you enjoy
- Taking time to relax and rejuvenate
- Getting involved in community service
Goodbye Tooth Pain, Goodbye Headaches
Not every headache problem is related to dental problems, but there are many where there is a connection between headaches and teeth. If you suspect your headache is dental related, see a dentist as soon as possible. Once your headaches can be relieved by a simple dental treatment plan, you’ll wish you had gone a long time ago!