Have you ever treated patients with migraines or headaches? If so, patients may be interested to know that treating their pain isn't a lost cause. In fact, new research shows that improved oral health can help soothe headaches and migraine symptoms.
Let's look at the research and discuss key takeaways.
Link Between Oral Health, Migraines and Headaches
Migraines and headaches impact 2.7 million Canadians, all of whom could benefit from knowing that better oral health can help with their symptoms.
Although they’re two different entities, migraines and headaches have similar triggers, such as too much caffeine (or withdrawal from caffeine), alcohol, stress, and bright sunlight. And that only scratches the surface ‒ weather changes, blood sugar fluctuations, and dehydration also play a role.
The research shows that you can add the following oral health issues to the list of factors connected with migraines and headaches.
1. Misaligned, Loose, or Missing Teeth
When teeth are loose, missing, or misaligned, the jaw muscles must work harder to swallow, keep the mouth closed, and bring the teeth together. As a result, your patients might experience continual muscle inflammation that can result in migraines or headaches.
2. Jaw Clenching and Tooth Grinding
Patients that grind their teeth and clench their jaw are vulnerable to inflammation in the muscles and gums.
Stress, bad bites, and teeth misalignments can all lead to grinding and clenching.
We will then note that many of your patients won’t know they’re grinding their teeth since it occurs unconsciously or during sleep.
Therefore, you must educate your patients on signs to look for that can suggest a severe grinding/clenching habit, such as:
- Sore jaw muscles
- ‘Click’ sound when opening their mouths
- Ongoing dull headaches felt behind the eyes or around the temples
- Toothaches/sore teeth
- Problems when trying to close and open their mouth
- Tongue biting
A toothache that results from decay can trigger migraines and headaches.
The trigeminal nerve regulates the sensation in the mouth and face functions. This is often irritated by toothaches that lead to migraines.
Oral health problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, and misaligned teeth are what cause toothaches.
4. Temporomandibular Disorders (TMDs)
TMDs and migraine research has not been presented in a way for experts to understand which develops first for their patients.
In other words, TMDs might cause migraines. But it could also be vice versa, in that a migraine can trigger pain in the jaw and teeth when TMD flares up.
With that said, research indicates that treating the oral health-based issue can offset the severity of related headaches and migraines. Dental treatments can also reduce how often headaches and migraines occur.
5. Wisdom Teeth
The last adult teeth to come into the mouth (wisdom teeth) can become impacted, causing pain and damage to other teeth. It can also lead to other dental issues such as triggering severe headaches.
In most instances, removing a patient’s wisdom teeth solves this problem.
Dentists Can Help Patients with Headaches and Migraines
While the oral health conditions discussed above can (and should) be treated by dentists, patients experiencing head pain should speak with their primary physician as well. That notion rings doubly true if headaches or migraines are new, frequent, or severe.
When patients communicate these issues with their doctors, they can grasp an understanding of what is causing the pain and figure out a treatment plan.
Once doctors acknowledge that oral health plays a role in migraines/headaches, they’ll refer patients to dental head-pain specialists.
The Need to Be Proactive and Preventative
Another crucial point is the need for proactive, preventative care.
Yes, it’s possible for dentists to treat related oral issues to help offset headaches and migraines. However, frequent dental checkups will catch these problems before they grow into something more serious, even stopping pain before it can start.
Healthcare and dental care function best as preventative measures instead of being reactive to overwhelming symptoms.
So, even if patients aren’t reporting headaches and migraines, they should be educated on their connection with dental problems. This way, they’ll be more motivated to stay on top of their oral health and schedule frequent dental checkups.