If you have both a headache and a toothache, it’s not uncommon to question if the two are linked. There is a possibility that your toothache is causing your headache. It’s also possible that both are symptoms of an undiagnosed health condition, such as a sinus infection or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Migraine headaches and tooth pain. What’s the link?
Many triggers can cause a toothache, such as cracked teeth, cavities, or impacted wisdom teeth. If these conditions go without treatment, a person may get migraine pain.
Migraines are throbbing headaches that usually only affect one side of the head. They can also include nausea, vomiting, and light or sound sensitivity.
Many experts agree that the root cause of both toothaches and migraines comes from the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is a cranial nerve that basically controls all movement and sensations in your face -including the upper/lower lip, gums, teeth, etc. It’s thought that pain associated with a toothache irritates this already sensitive nerve, thus provoking a migraine headache.
Referred pain from the tooth towards the head
A common occurrence is for a person to assume they are experiencing tension-type headaches or migraines when, in reality, they are feeling referred pain from an issue with their teeth. Referred pain is defined as the feeling of a painful sensation in an area of your body that’s different from the actual area that presents with the cause of the discomfort. The trigeminal nerve has many connections between facial structures and the brain, which explains why you may think you have a headache, but it may be stemming from tooth decay or gum disease.
Bruxism (teeth grinding)
One prime example of referred pain in the head is bruxism, more commonly known as teeth grinding. This often happens at night without the person even realising it. The headache that originates from bruxism feels like a dull ache and can wrap around your head or occur behind your eyes.
Other symptoms indicative of bruxism are: sore teeth and jaw pain, clicking in the jaw joint, tensed jaw muscles and trouble opening/closing the mouth wide enough.
Cavernous sinus thrombosis
The cavernous sinuses are large, empty spaces located under the brain near each eye socket. A large blood vessel runs through the cavernous sinuses and carries blood away from the brain.
An infection in the teeth, face or skull can spread to the cavernous sinuses and cause a blood clot to form. The body forms this clot to prevent the further spread of infection, but it restricts the flow of blood carrying oxygen to the brain– which could damage delicate tissue like brain cells and eyes, as well as the nerves connecting them both.
Sometimes clots form without an infection nearby. They usually manifest themselves as sudden and severe headaches, especially around the eyes, double vision, high-grade fever, protruding eyeballs and nausea etc.
Other health issues
Some physical conditions can result in both a headache and toothache, but they are not necessarily linked to dental or headache disorders.
A sinus infection can lead to pain in your teeth, especially the upper teeth below your maxillary sinus (which is behind your cheekbones).
Besides teeth pain, another common symptom of a sinus infection is a headache that gets worse when you bend forward.
Other signs and symptoms of a sinus infection include;
- Nasal congestion and yellow or green mucus drainage down the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
Temporomandibular joint disorder
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ or TMD) disorder is a problem that can cause toothaches. It’s located in front of your ear and the muscles surrounding it.
Not only can TMJ give you a throbbing toothache, but it can also induce headaches that start by your ear and travel down to your jaw and neck. Even common motions like chewing or opening/closing your mouth can cause these splitting headaches.
It is a pain disorder caused by compression or damage of the trigeminal nerve, resulting in sudden and sharp facial pains. Many people experience this mostly on one side of their face along their upper or lower jaw. However, dentists often mistake it for an abscessed tooth when it’s not. In fact, multiple root canals or tooth extractions are not uncommon before receiving an actual diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia.
Tips for treating a headache from a toothache
Below are some tips shared for you to manage your headache triggered by dental pain at home until you see a professional dentist.
- Take over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or diclofenac sodium.
- Keep yourself hydrated and take rest
- Apply some clove oil on the painful tooth to reduce the referred pain in the head
- Take steam to reduce the sinus pressure, which may be causing a headache.
- Try a warm salt water rinse to relieve any inflammation and tooth pain.
When to see your dentist?
If you develop a new toothache or headache, see your healthcare provider right away. It can sometimes be hard to figure out what’s causing the pain, but it’s important to get to the bottom of it. For example, if you’ve had dental work done for a toothache and still experience headaches, talk to your dentist and figure out if the headache is linked to your tooth pain.
For a professional assessment and quick relief, book an appointment at your nearest No Gaps Dental clinic and have our friendly dentists check you up and treat the source of your pain. Call us now on (02) 8007 6727.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.
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