Can Toothache Cause a Headache? The Link Between Jaw Pain and Headaches

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

In the United States, chronic headache pain is the leading cause of medical complaints. It can be challenging to identify the root cause of a headache and even more so to find an appropriate treatment.

There are multiple reasons why a toothache can be a concern. The discomfort can be somewhat irritating to severe, depending on the underlying reason, which might be anything from tooth damage to a cavity.

Ignoring the tooth’s health and pain can only make the situation worse and may even trigger frequent headaches.

Can jaw pain cause your headaches?

It is possible to experience headaches because of jaw pain. Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder is the second-most frequent source of chronic pain for millions of people worldwide (the first is arthritis). The condition typically results in a painful headache and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to eat and communicate.

When you misdiagnose TMJ as a headache, you may keep looking for relief in over-the-counter painkillers. Even if your pain is alleviated temporarily, it will return if the underlying cause isn’t dealt with.

Each side of your head, in front of your ears, contains a temporomandibular joint. These joints are where your jaw connects to your skull, allowing you to eat, talk, and yawn with ease because of your jaw’s unique range of motion.

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TMJ patients frequently misdiagnose their jaw discomfort as tension or migraine headaches. So why is it that people often get the two mixed up? It’s because the muscles in your head are attached directly to your jaw joint.

Your jaw is primarily moved by a large, fan-shaped muscle that extends from one side of your head to the other. Your cheeks also hold muscles that affect your temporomandibular joint.

Tension, knots, or injury to these muscles from issues with the jaw joints can put a lot of pressure on the head, causing headaches.

What’s the connection between headache and toothache?

Specialists have suggested that the trigeminal nerve is directly involved in the connection between toothaches and migraines. This nerve is responsible for sensations in the lower and upper lips, gums, and teeth.

A toothache causes discomfort all through the network of nerves that runs through your head and face.

These nerves, together referred to as the trigeminal nerves, supply sensation to much of the craniofacial region and are the most powerful nerve group in the human body.

Until you see a dentist, the discomfort in and around your tooth might worsen into a complete headache if a toothache has irritated the nerve.

A man with a toothache that's also causing his headache

Can your wisdom tooth cause a headache?

Wisdom teeth typically emerge when people are between the ages of 17 and 25. The third molars are the last pair of teeth in your mouth. With two on top and two below, wisdom teeth often come in a total of four.

The American Dental Association notes that about five years after your second set of molars emerges, your wisdom teeth will begin to erupt through the gums and jawbone. It’s possible that this transition is what’s triggering your headache.

Inadequate space for wisdom teeth can lead to the movement of other teeth and an uneven bite.

If you don’t bite down correctly, your lower jaw may move to make up for it, which can cause pain, soreness, and even headaches.

So, it is possible to experience a headache because of your wisdom teeth. If you are not sure of the cause, you can visit your doctor to find the root cause of your headache.

Is it normal to have a headache 2 weeks after tooth extraction?

While getting a tooth out, the jaw and mouth muscles tend to tense up. The facial and cranial muscles are also affected, sometimes leading to painful headaches.

As a result, you may have discomfort or a headache after having teeth extracted due to the tension placed on the muscles of your face. The stress often begins in the gums and works its way up to the head.

Tooth extraction is necessary if there is pus or inflammation surrounding the tooth or gums. In such situations, you may also have swelling, fever, headache, or bleeding. If you have a decaying or diseased tooth, the dentist may extract it to prevent the infection from spreading.

So, unfortunately, both an infected tooth and the extraction to remove it can cause headaches.

Remedies for jaw pain and headache

It’s common to confuse the symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder with those of a regular headache because both are common.

Sharp pain in the back of the neck or top of the head is possible, and it might be followed by jaw stiffness.

Migraines and other severe types of headaches are common signs of TMJ. Try these five treatment options to treat and prevent chronic TMJ headaches.

A woman with toothache and a headache

Massage your jaw

If you experience TMJ headaches, gently massaging your jaw may help improve blood flow to the area.

Massaging your jaw can alleviate some of the discomfort and lessen the likelihood of a swollen jaw.

Massage your jaw like this: With three fingers, massage the mandibular joint in slow, circular motions. Keep doing this until you feel relief.

Change your lifestyle

Making little adjustments to your jaw routine, such as avoiding foods that require a lot of chewing, can help. In addition, avoiding jaw movements such as broad yawning and gum chewing can help alleviate discomfort.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful in the short term for alleviating the jaw discomfort and headache associated with TMJ. All-in-one medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen fall under this category.

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Consult with your doctor

Schedule a visit with your doctor if adjustments in your lifestyle and over-the-counter drugs have not relieved your symptoms. In some cases, they may be able to provide you with stronger medication.

If your doctor finds that conservative, noninvasive treatments aren’t working, they may suggest more radical measures. In order to alleviate the pain, they may prescribe stronger medication or recommend a stabilization splint. You can also get a stabilization splint from your dentist.

While they are likely to protect your teeth when you grind them, there is no solid evidence that stabilization splints help to relieve headaches or jaw pain.

Conclusion

Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate the pain of a TMJ headache. If you suspect you’re experiencing TMJ headaches, discuss your symptoms and any attempts you’ve made to lessen the discomfort with your doctor.

You can get relief from your headaches and learn how to prevent them in the future once you find out the root cause of them. We recommend that you visit your doctor if you’ve tried any treatment options and your headache is still not going away.

November 21, 2022