If you’re one of the one billion people worldwide suffering from migraines, you know the difference between a migraine and a headache. Many use the words interchangeably, but they are by far anything but the same. Headaches can be unpleasant but are often short-lived. Whereas migraines, on the other hand, can be excruciating, debilitating, and linger on for long periods of time.
Anything from weather to hormones can trigger a migraine. But did you know that your migraine may be a result of something to do with your teeth? It’s true. There is actually a strong connection between dental issues and the onset of migraines. So, how can dental issues cause migraines? Read on to learn more about their relationship.
What is a Migraine?
Before we dive right into what dental issues may be causing your migraines and why let’s first discuss what exactly a migraine is. The Migraine Research Foundation emphasizes that a migraine is more than a powerful headache – it’s a debilitating neurological disorder. Therefore, there are different symptoms and treatment approaches for migraines than other headache disorders.
Symptoms vary by person but typically include:
- Severe or intense pain
- Pain may be on one side of the head or both
- Pain around the eyes and behind the cheeks
- Throbbing, pounding, or pulsating sensation
- Pain gets worse with physical activity or any movement
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, noise, and/or smells
- Pain prevents you from participating in regular, daily activities, such as work
- Attacks last anywhere from four hours to several days
What Causes a Migraine?
Many factors ranging from environmental to lifestyle, can trigger a migraine attack. One of the most common causes of migraines is genetics. If you have a family history of migraines, you are more likely to experience them yourself. Research has found that up to 80 percent of people with migraines have a family history of the condition.
Hormonal changes are also believed to be a contributing factor to migraines. Women are more likely to experience migraines than men, and many women report that their migraines are linked to their menstrual cycles and/or menopause.
Other potential triggers of migraines include stress, certain foods or drinks (such as alcohol or caffeine), and changes in sleep patterns. It is important to note that not everyone who experiences these triggers will develop migraines, and not everyone who experiences migraines will have the same triggers.
Sometimes, your dental pain may even be mistaken for a migraine. When this occurs, it’s called referred pain.
The Migraine-Tooth Connection
Referred pain means that you feel a painful sensation in a different area of your body than the body part that’s actually causing the pain. This occurs because of nerve connections, including from the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is a cranial nerve responsible for controlling facial and eye movements and providing feeling to most of your face. Studies have linked the trigeminal nerve to the development of migraines.
Orofacial refers to your head, neck, and oral cavity. All of those regions are closely connected and directly affect each other. One of the connections between your orofacial regions is the trigeminal nerve.
Several orofacial conditions can trigger a migraine due to the trigeminal nerve connection. These conditions include:
A simple toothache caused by any number of dental issues, including untreated cavities, cracked teeth, or impacted wisdom teeth, can irritate the trigeminal nerve. This can lead to a migraine as the nerve can evoke intense sharp pains.
Bruxism or teeth grinding is a common culprit of a migraine. Often caused by stress or misaligned teeth, the act of grinding or clenching your teeth usually occurs at night and without you even realizing it. Headaches and migraines associated with bruxism typically cause a dull pain that wraps around the head and is also felt behind the eyes. A sore and tight jaw are also symptoms you may be grinding your teeth. In addition, the continuous grinding can cause nerve damage and irritation, thus radiating pain throughout your face and head.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)
TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, results when the ball and socket joint connecting your upper and lower jaw doesn’t function correctly. The pain usually starts near the ear and moves toward the jaw, temple, or neck. Sometimes you can hear a popping sound when opening and closing your mouth; other times, your jaw may feel completely stuck.
Alleviate Migraine Pain With Treatment and Prevention
Migraines are no doubt painful and debilitating. For temporary relief, you should take an over-the-counter pain reliever and ensure you get enough sleep and drink enough water.
If you suffer from migraines, discuss your symptoms with your provider in addition to your dentist if you think it could be related to your teeth. Tooth pain, jaw pain, and headaches are all types of pain that you should speak to your healthcare provider about, as they could trigger a migraine. Never just ignore pain, as it’s your body informing you something is going on and needs to be addressed.
It may be helpful to keep a migraine diary to track your symptoms and identify any potential triggers that may be contributing to your condition. This information can prove helpful for your provider when determining a cause and treatment plan.