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Is your headache just a headache? Or something more serious?
Headaches might seem easy to diagnose on their own, but if the throbbing in your head has these other symptoms, you'll need to talk to your dentist. - photo by Kevin Ippisch
Many people get frequent headaches and usually dont pay any attention to them. If you can take something over the counter to eliminate the pain, you may never bother speaking with your physician about it.

However, when it comes to pain and other side effects (like fatigue, dizziness, or nausea) that accompany your headache, it might be time to think more seriously about such a "common" pain.

While we dont have to schedule a doctors appointment every time we have an ache or pain, frequent headaches may not always be as they seem. The nagging pain that you continuously feel in your head could be caused by an oral health condition.

Dental pain and headaches have a lot in common. When pain is in the nerves and muscles that go throughout our face and neck, it can cause pain and discomfort to form a loop, making it hard to detect where the problem started. Your headache could trigger discomfort in the jaw or neck area or vice versa.

The trigeminal nerve

With a headache or a toothache, the pain transmits from one sole source (known as the trigeminal nerve). It's the most significant sensory nerve located in our head and causes us to feel pain from our external face, teeth, jaw, scalp, and other intra-oral areas. If pain occurs in one part of the nerve, its likely that the same sensation will happen in different branches of the nerve so, a continuous toothache can easily cause you to experience a severe headache.

The confusing pain connection

Jaw clenching or muscle tightening in the face can also cause headache pain, due to the high level of interconnectivity between the external and internal parts of your head.

If you clench your teeth, you'll notice an instant connection with your neck muscles. Patients who experience a neck injury will tend to hold their tension in their teeth, leading to pain in the jaw muscle (and related headache pain).

Another factor that makes it challenging to locate the source of head, neck or oral pain is that headaches don't have any physical signs or symptoms. If you're receiving treatment for migraines, sinus headaches, or tension headaches, and the medication is not helping, talk to a dentist to check if there are any underlying oral conditions you may be diagnosed with TMJ or TMD.

Learning about TMJ and TMD

When you are dealing with headaches, ongoing migraines, or overall facial pain, you could have a condition known as TMJ or TMD. Both situations involve the temporomandibular or TM joints (located on either side of your head). These joints help the muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints in your face work as they should.

TMD (or Temporomandibular disorders) can happen when your TM joints arent working properly, causing you to experience various types of pain.

Confusing them with a headache

More than 15 percent of Americans suffer from chronic facial pain, including jaw pain, earaches, and severe headaches, caused by TM disorders. And while the discomfort may be temporary, it can come and go for years without being correctly diagnosed.

The exact cause of TMD is very unclear. However, some dentists agree that it could be from:

  • Grinding or clenching of the teeth
  • Injury to the jaw or head
  • Dislocating of the jaw
  • Stress that leads to clenching of the facial muscles
  • Forms of arthritis present in the RA or OA joints
TMJ and TMD are serious conditions. If left untreated, it could lead to other medical conditions such as malnutrition, eating disorders, or tinnitus. It could also cause the jaw to lock involuntarily, which could cause you to choke if you are eating at the time.

If you're noticing additional side effects to your headaches, you may find that your head pain is the direct result of issues with your oral health (and a range of other severe conditions). Be sure to consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about ongoing headaches and talk to your dentist about a possible TM disorder.
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