Some headaches have a dental origin. This page ties in with our pages on Jaw Joints and about The Bite (occlusion).

First thing - the list of reasons for headache or migraine is almost endless.

headacheGet your Doctor to check you don't have another cause for your headaches - and if needs be get a referral to a neurologist who's into headache and migraine. Don't be fobbed off. Headaches and migraines can be utterly debilitating and have a major impact on quality of life. They can also have very important underlying causes. You don't want to be treated inappropriately.

Don't let anyone tell you that dentists can cure all types of headache - it's not true. Dentists can help with very specific types of headache.

First, some anatomy!

We have two basic types of muscles that operate our face and jaws - 

  • The muscles of facial expression - The muscles that we use to smile, to frown and so on. These are operated by the Facial (Seventh Cranial) Nerve. When someone lose the use of one side of the face (Bell's Palsy), it's this nerve and these muscles that are affected.
  • The muscles of mastication (chewing) - We chew with just four pairs of muscles. The masseters, the medial and lateral pterygoids and the temporalis muscles. These are all operated by the Trigeminal (Fifth Cranial) nerve.

In this context, these are the muscles we are interested in.

  • The masseter - squeeze your teeth together and feel the area over the angle of your jaw - that's the masseter muscle you can feel. This muscle closes the jaw.
  • The temporalis - squeeze your teeth together and feel your temples. That's the temporalis muscle. This muscle closes the jaw and pulls it back
  • The pterygoid muscles - these are tucked in under your ear and inside the angle of your jaw.  These basically move the jaw side to side and help to pull it back.

tension headaches 

If the jaw joints (TMJs) are not seated as far into their sockets as possible when at rest, then the muscles involved in moving the jaw (the muscles of mastication) are stretched slightly. Muscles work by contracting, so a long muscle will work to try to be shorter. If you clench your fist for ten minutes, you'll get cramp, because you're building up lactic acid in the muscle. Imagine clenching the muscles of your jaw for a long time and the same will happen - the muscles get sore. Get sore pterygoid muscles and you'll feel like you have a sore throat. Get a sore temporalis and you'll get soreness on the sides of your head - tension headache!

When you're resting, there should be a space between your upper and lower teeth - usually about 2mm. But many of us clench and grind our teeth together during the day and night - we call this bruxism. We reckon that the maximum time that teeth should be in contact in a 24 hour period is about 15 minutes. And that should be fleeting contact when we chew. Spend eight hours grinding your teeth in the night and the muscles work all night, making lactic acid and getting sore. Result - you wake up with a headache in the side of your head and a stiff neck. It's not that pillow you need to change - it's the bruxism. You may find the same when you're stressed at work, or driving.

But why aren't the jaw joints seating properly? Why aren't they seating as far back and up as possible? And what can we do about it? That's down to occlusion - follow this link to our page on occlusion.

Follow this link to our page about jaw joint problems - TMJ dysfunction

Mauela Fontebasso, migraine book


Here's a book to buy - Migraine and other headaches by Dr Manuela Fontebasso. It's a self-help book written by a headache specialist from Hull and York Medial School. Full price it's £13.99 at the time of writing. As is the nature of books you can often pick it up for a fiver on eBay. It's a structured set of questions that walk you through your headache/migraines.

As you work your way through, you find yourself thinking "that's me, that is". Basically, it helps you learn WHY you get the pain in the first place. Simple changes can produce dramatic results.

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© Hesslewood Lodge Dental Practice, 16th Nov 2015