We all know that cavities can lead to tooth pain, but did you know that they can make the rest of your head hurt as well? If you’ve been dealing with headaches that have been hard to beat, your dentist may be able to fix what your pharmacist can’t treat.
How Cavities Cause Headaches — Even When The Cavities Are Small
The human body is efficient, but its efficiency can sometimes create troubles on its own. In this case, the efficiency (and the trouble) stems from the trigeminal nerve, the cranial nerve that processes sensation in the face, teeth, and nasal cavity, and motor control for the muscles of the jaw and mouth. The trigeminal nerve handles a lot of sensory information, and its the root for many other important nerves in the face and mouth.
The problem here is that a pain signal coming in from one branch of the trigeminal nerve, such as the maxillary nerves in your mouth, can trigger pain signals in other branches of the trigeminal nerve. A signal that’s meant to communicate a small issue (like a small cavity or temperature sensitivity) can inadvertently turn into one that can cause headaches, jaw aches, and facial pain.
While most neurologists are familiar with the relationship between dental health and headaches, some general practitioners aren’t. The exact science behind how orofacial and craniocervical nerves accidentally connect is incredibly complex and Neuromuscular Dentistry is a fairly new field. Even if you feel like you’ve already exhausted all of the options available to you, it might be worth talking to a cross-disciplinary specialist; the human body rarely fits into neat categories, and the divisions between medical fields can conceal potential solutions.
Advanced Tooth Decay is a Problem, Too
It’s important to remember that the relationship between oral health and headaches isn’t limited to crossed wires, though, and that your teeth can saddle you with a lot more than just a persistent headache. Infection, inflammation, and bad jaw posture can all play a role in headaches and head pain. New or worsening pain might be a warning that something’s gone quite wrong with your teeth.
This is especially true for sore teeth that have been left untreated, as new or worsening headaches and head pain is usually a sign that the infection has spread. An infected tooth is rarely just an infected tooth, and waiting until the pain migrates is an easy way to turn a reasonable situation into a lengthy and expensive one.
Make a point of talking to Dr. Halsema about any tooth pain or abnormal headaches you experience. A proper dentist’s visit depends as much on accurate patient reports as it does on inspections and cleanings, and ignoring tooth or head pain because it “isn’t intense enough to mention” or because your dentist didn’t find any cavities is shortsighted.
Other Ways Your Dental Health Can Cause Headaches
If you thought that crossed nerves and tooth decay were the only ways in which your oral health could influence your headaches, think again.
An uneven bite, grinding your teeth, failing to wear your retainer consistently, and complications with the jaw joint can all contribute to headaches and migraines. Worse yet, chronic tension headaches can feed into the cycle when you unconsciously clench your jaw, as the (often uneven) wear on your teeth creates more tension in your jaw and face.
In these situations, however, you have lots of options. Dental cosmetics can help you adjust your bite pattern and relieve tension in your face and jaw. Sometimes all it takes is a brief course of orthodontic treatment, or even just an updated retainer, to banish chronic headaches for good. There are also options for patients with dentures, as their bite pattern can be adjusted without surgery or braces.
Whether you experience mild nagging headaches or frequent migraines, it’s important to include Dr. Halsema in the conversation. Your oral health can impact a staggering number of other health factors and your dentist can help you with a lot more than a bright smile. Keeping them in the loop is an easy way to save yourself time, energy, and money in the long run.