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Federal Employees Dental Program

How your dentist can help diagnose the causes of your headaches

Regular visits to your dentist can involve much more than just checking for cavities and practicing how to floss. Your dentist can also help you determine why you might be having other issues, such as headaches or neck pain.

What can your dentist can learn from your headaches?

Because tension headaches usually come from muscle strain that develops in the jaw and mouth, your dentist can see if this strain is the result of your jaw not biting down correctly. If your jaw or teeth aren’t aligned properly, that can lead to the muscle strain that eventually causes headaches. Your dentist may recommend orthodontic work such as braces or oral surgery. Depending on the treatment plan, this type of work would likely be done by a dental specialist.

In addition, a misalignment might be making you grind your teeth at night, in your sleep. This grinding, also known as bruxism, might be why you wake up with a headache in the morning. Even some habits you don’t pay attention to can lead to headaches: chewing on a pencil, for example, or biting your nails. Treatment for bruxism is usually managed by a general dentist, and involves using a mouthguard while sleeping to prevent the teeth from grinding against each other. Bruxism can also be treated by incorporating stress-reduction behaviors to help you relax and better manage your anxiety.

The biggest cause of headaches? TMJ syndrome

TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, is a major cause of headaches. It affects the jaw joints and muscles, as well as the facial nerves, and can be very painful if not treated. Although most cases of TMJ syndrome go away after some time, it’s important to visit your dentist if you think you might have TMJ syndrome. Toothaches and sinus problems can also feel similar to TMJ syndrome, so be sure your dentist verifies the diagnosis. He or she can work with you to develop stress-release exercises to help you manage the pain.

What if my headache isn’t caused by TMJ syndrome?

Cavities and infections can also lead to headaches. Regular cleanings and proper treatment can help reduce those risks. The most important thing to remember is that not all headaches are dental-related, so be sure to speak with your doctor if you’re having problems.