Dental stress is a common cause of recurring headaches. Approximately 40% of healthy individuals suffer from recurring headaches and one in eight sufferers have headaches which are severe enough to significantly affect their ability to carry out normal activities.
Dental stress as a cause of headaches
Around 80% of all headaches occur as a result of muscle tension. Muscles which are held tight for long periods of time start to ache. When the muscles become strained or contracted, tension headaches occur. A common cause of tension headaches is a bad bite. A tension headache may affect one or both sides of the head or it may surround the head and feel like a steel band were wrapped around it. The pain of a tension headache feels like a dull, non-throbbing ache and the pain is often relieved by aspirin. Signs which indicate that a headache may have a dental origin include:
- Pain behind the eyes
- Sore jaw muscles
- Tired muscles upon wakening
- Grinding of the teeth
- Clicking or popping of the jaw joints
- Head and/or scalp feels painful to the touch
What is a bad bite and why does this cause muscle tension?
The muscles which control the jaw and allow the head to be held upright are extremely complex. Every time you swallow - over 2000 times in each 24 hour period - your upper and lower teeth must come together in a firm way to brace the jaw against the skull. Consequently, your jaw muscles have to work constantly and never get a rest. If your bite is unstable, because of poorly aligned or missing teeth, your muscles have to work even harder to bring your teeth together and are under constant strain. Overworked muscles which become strained eventually become painful.
Pain from strained muscles in the jaw may be felt in the cheeks, in the jaw joints, or may be 'referred' to other areas of the head. Referred pain is pain which originates in one part of the body, but is felt in another part of the body.
Other muscles may become involved and a vicious cycle begins
The head, which is extremely heavy and weighs around 7 kgs (15 pounds), is delicately balanced on top of the spinal column by the muscles of the jaw, neck, shoulders and back. If a single jaw, neck or shoulder muscle becomes shortened as a result of tension, all the other muscles have to overwork to keep the weight of the head balanced on top of the spinal column.
Dental headaches originate from an unstable bite which causes the muscles of the jaw, head, and neck to overwork and become painful. When the muscle become painful a vicious cycle begins where the pain causes tension, which leads to worsening muscle spasm which, in turn, leads to increased pain.
Contact your dentist if you suspect that your headaches might be caused by a bad bite. He or she will examine your teeth, muscles, and jaw joints to determine whether dental stress could be the source of the problem. If that is the case, treatment involves correcting the bite so that the muscles can function without extra strain and tension. Sometimes it can be helpful to receive physical therapy in addition to dental treatment to correct the postural relationship of the head, neck and shoulders.
Headaches vary in their severity and can have a variety of other causes. Immediate medical help should be sought for any head pain which is accompanied by:
- Weakness of an arm or leg
- Loss of vision
- Loss of consciousness