Treatment of Dental Headaches

Patients who experience no relief from typical headache treatment may be experiencing pain from a different source.  Instead of a tension-type or migraine headache, your teeth and jaw may be the cause of your pain.

Dental headaches can be caused by dental disease or by jaw joint problems.  Read on to learn about the causes and symptoms of dental headaches, as well as methods of treatment.

What are Dental Headaches?

There are two primary causes for dental headaches: dental disease and jaw joint problems.

Dental Disease

One type of dental headache is caused by dental disease, or a toothache. Toothaches can be due to inflammation or infection, which causes an intense, painful throbbing sensation in the lower regions of the face.

Patients who regularly grind their teeth or clench their jaws may damage the tissue inside and below their teeth, causing dental headaches.

Headaches caused by dental disease will usually not cause pain above midline (meaning the pain stays in the lower part of the face).  Because of this they are rarely misdiagnosed as migraine, cluster, or tension headaches by dentists who are trained to recognize them.  Occasionally these more common headaches spread to the lower regions of the face and have symptoms similar to dental disease headaches, making diagnosis more difficult.

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Jaw Joint Problems

Dental headaches can also be caused by jaw joint problems.  These dental headaches are a type of tension headacheJaw joint problems can occur because of an abnormal bite or because of a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Injury to jaw joints may also be caused by teeth grinding in sleep or clenching.

Dental headaches can also be caused by a poor occlusion, or an abnormal bite.  If your dental headache is caused by a poor occlusion, other symptoms you will likely experience include tooth sensitivity, difficulty chewing, noise or pain in your jaw joint, facial pain, or neck pain.

Headaches caused by poor occlusion (abnormal bite) are a type of tension headache.  The muscles in your temples and forehead play an important part in the posture and setting of your jaw.  When you have poor occlusion, these muscles will be strained, which causes a tension headache.

 

What are Dental Headache Triggers?

  • Stimulating the diseased Tooth: If your dental headache is being caused by dental disease, stimulating the diseased tooth by chewing will likely trigger a headache.
  • Clenching or Grinding: Clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, especially for long periods of time (such as while you sleep), may trigger a dental headache.
  • Continuous Toothache:  Toothaches and headaches are communicated to the brain by the same nerve, the trigeminal nerve.  Because of this shared nerve, a continuous toothache causing pain in one branch will likely trigger pain in another branch of the nerve. People with migraines who leave toothaches untreated are more likely to develop a migraine.
  • Regular Head Pain: Again, because regular headaches and dental headaches are communicated to the brain through the same nerve, a regular headache can trigger a dental headache.

What are the Symptoms of Dental Headaches?

Location: With dental headaches caused by dental disease or decay, pain may spread unilaterally through the head but not above midline (halfway up the face).  Other than this, the pain is poorly localized.

Dental headaches caused by jaw joint problems will often result in head pain behind the eyes.  They may be localized one or both sides of the head.

  • Type: With dental headaches caused by dental disease, pain will be felt as an intense throbbing sensation.Dental headaches caused by jaw joint problems will often result in a dull aching pain.  These headaches do not cause throbbing pain, but your head and scalp may be painful to touch.
  • Severity: Dental headache pain is an intense, strong pain.
  • Duration: Dental headaches vary in duration. They may last only a few hours but can last for a couple of days.

Types of Dental Headaches

Types of dental headaches include those caused by dental disease (such as toothaches) and jaw joint.

Dental Headache Risk Factors

Patients who get migraines are more likely to get dental headaches.  People who grind their teeth and clench their jaw are more likely to get dental headaches caused by jaw joint problems (this often happens subconsciously while you sleep so you may need to get someone else to tell you if you do this).  Poor posture, stress, missing a tooth, or having an abnormal bite make your muscles work harder and therefore make you more susceptible to dental headaches caused by jaw joint problems.

Treatment Options:

Long term treatment for dental headaches caused by dental disease or toothaches is either pharmaceutical or surgical in nature. Patients usually experience relief from pain after treatment, but in some patients, postoperative pain may be felt for a while.  In the short term, headache medicine provides strong pain relief.

Dentists’ long term treatment for dental headaches caused by a poor bite is custom made orthotic.  This orthotic is made to fit you personally, and will help rearrange your bite to its proper position.  It is a plastic appliance that is either attached to your teeth or worn over them.  In the short term, headache medicine provides strong pain relief.

Whether your dental headache is caused by dental disease or jaw joint problems, you should schedule an appointment with your dentist so you can receive professional care.

Dental Headache Prevention

Prevention methods vary depending on whether your dental headache is caused by jaw joint problems or dental disease.

  • Bite Guard:  If you grind or clench your teeth, especially at night when you can’t control yourself, wearing a bite guard can protect both your jaw and tissues below and in your teeth from injury.  Protecting these tissues and your jaw will help prevent dental headaches.
  • Jaw Stretching:  Stretching your jaw will help relax the muscles, preventing tension build up and jaw joint injury.
  • Relaxation Therapy:  One simple method to prevent dental headaches caused by jaw joint problems is to relax.  Relaxation exercises or meditation can help you to stop unconscious jaw clenching and teeth grinding.  They will also help you relax your jaw muscles.

Identifying and eliminating emotional stress can help in the same way.

  • Dental Hygiene: The best way to prevent dental headaches caused by dental disease is to take care of your teeth.  This means regularly flossing and brushing your teeth.
  • Regular Aerobic Exercise: Aerobic exercise has been shown to relieve even severe migraine headaches and is proven to help other pain conditions through the release of natural pain relieving substances, endorphins as well as by relieving stress.

Immediate Treatment

  • Hot or Cold Packs:  One simple way to relieve the pain of a dental headache caused by jaw problems is to ice or heat your jaw.
  • Jaw Stretching:  Stretching your jaw will help relax the muscles, preventing tension build up and jaw joint injury.

Pain Medicine: The fastest and most effective method of treatment for dental headaches is a powerful, fast-acting pain medicine such as Migralex. Migralex is stronger than many other types of headache medicine and is perfect for treating dental headaches when patients want strong pain relief.

Dental Headache Resources