There are many dental problems and oral health concerns that can lead to headaches. Learn about the common dental issues that may be causing your headaches.
Although head pain and headaches can occur for a variety of reasons, and occasional "common headaches" are normal, frequent ones can be a symptom of a dental issue. A dental problem can also lead to more serious migraine headaches, characterized by intense, throbbing pain, nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.
Muscle and Nerve Connections
Why do dental problems cause headaches? In short, because of nerves and muscles in the head.
Toothache pain and dental issues are commonly associated with head pain. Nerves and muscles connect the teeth to other facial structures in the head, which can cause radiated and referred pain.
The trigeminal nerve is one of the biggest nerves in the head and transmits pain and other sensations from the face. It is involved in normal chewing, swallowing and blood flow regulation processes inside the brain. It can also lead to situations where pain in a tooth or jaw radiates away, causing headaches, and making diagnosis of the source of the issue difficult.
Other symptoms can help indicate what the underlying oral health concern may be, but seeing a dentist as soon as possible is important for diagnosis and dental treatment. If the headaches are due to a medical concern rather than a dental one, your dentist can advise.
Tight Jaw Muscles
When jaw muscles are overworked and strained, dental headaches follow.
A bad bite, where the teeth or jaw are misaligned, so teeth don’t fit together properly when biting down, is a leading cause of facial pain and headaches. This can happen with damaged, missing, or misaligned teeth. Having an underbite, overbite, or emerging, impacted wisdom teeth can also negatively impact your bite. This puts added strain on the jaw muscles, leading to tension headaches.
Muscle tension, and as an extension, grinding and clenching the jaw, is heavily linked to headaches. Bruxism, also known as teeth grinding, is a common cause. Clenching your jaw and grinding, especially if you do it at night when you aren't aware of it, causes muscle strain in the jaw muscles, which then leads to tension headaches.
If this is the cause of your headaches, it is usually accompanied by a sore jaw, troubles chewing, a clicking sound in the jaw, difficulties opening and closing your mouth, and aching teeth.
Teeth grinding can be caused by a variety of reasons, including stress and obstructive sleep apnea. With obstructive apnea, when soft tissues in the throat block airways. People with this condition may move their jaw around in their sleep, trying to open the airway, but grinding their teeth at the same time.
Dental treatment for teeth grinding includes night guards to protect teeth and alleviate some forms of sleep apnea, if that is a cause of the grinding.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)
The strong link between muscle tension and headaches can be compounded and aggravated if there is a dysfunction in the jaw joint, known as the temporomandibular joint, and surrounding muscles. The joint, ligaments, and muscles all function together, to enable speaking, eating, and other mouth movements.
Bruxism can cause or aggravate a disorder in this joint; TMJ disorder may also be caused by arthritis and other conditions.
The painful sensation in the joint and jaw muscles spread, causing headaches. With TMJ issues, people usually experience a locked jaw, clicking and popping in the jaw that hurts, and problems chewing. Many report feeling pain in the face, neck, shoulder, and other areas, in addition to the jaw. There may also be earaches and ringing in the ears, or toothaches.
Dental treatment can include dental splints, mouth guards, and botulinum toxin injections.
Tooth Pain and Triggered Nerves
Tooth pain and dental concerns can cause regular or migraine headaches, linked via the trigeminal nerve. Toothache pain triggers the nerve, radiates pain outward around the head, and triggers a migraine headache. The link works the other way, as well, so migraine headaches can cause pain in teeth.
Because of the close connection, diagnosis of the underlying issue can be difficult.
Tooth Decay, Tooth Fractures, Impacted Teeth or Other Damage to Teeth
Tooth damage can expose or stimulate a nerve and trigger pain. The pain felt in nerves in dental pulp spread via the trigeminal nerve to other areas.
A visit to the dentist to treat decayed or damaged teeth will help not only with dental pain but with related headaches.
Infections and Abscesses
A tooth infection or abscess will have a similar effect. Bacteria in tooth pulp and gums cause fever, swelling, and pain that can be transferred to the head. As infection spreads through the jaw and into the sinuses, the headaches become worse.
If you have recurring head pain, headaches, or migraine headaches, and don't have a medical cause for the pain, you may have a dental problem. At Toronto Smile Centre, we can perform thorough diagnostics to help get to the root of your headache pain.