Can problems with your bite cause headaches?

Migraines can be debilitating, forcing many suffers to take time off work and preventing some from resuming normal activities for days.

It’s been implied in the press that dental work on the biting surfaces of your teeth can cause migraine headaches. Chiropractitioners and cranial osteopaths often refer to this misconception and some make spurious claims that changes in the bite created by dentists are a direct cause of migraines

What is a migraine?

According to the NHS, 15% of adults in the UK suffer from recurrent headaches. However, migraine is a specific headache resulting in intense head pain, nausea with vomiting and sensitivity to light (photophobia). Sufferers are often confined to bed in darkened rooms to avoid light and noise (which can exacerbate the condition). Doctors often prescribe drugs containing ergotamine which has a direct effect on intra-cranial blood vessels to manage the symptoms, with varying degrees of success.

How does a migraine differ from a tension headache?

Tension headaches, which can feel like a constant band of pressure around your head and behind your eyes, can be caused by over-activity of the jaw and neck muscles associated with stress and anxiety. Patients who are susceptible often find themselves in the dental chair complaining of temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) or pain in their jaw joints. These patients often clench and grind their teeth when stressed, causing jaw muscles to ache and produce headaches.

A simple explanation of the source of the pain will reassure 70% of patients, which subsequently helps to resolves the problem. The remaining group of patients may respond to bite-raising appliances or mouth guards specially made by the dentist.

After treating patients with chronic facial pains for over 30 years, I’ve often seen people who are prone to tension headaches seek help from a variety of practitioners claiming to cure jaw pain and headaches with massage, manipulation, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and kinesiotherapy. These practitioners are mechanically stretching and exercising tense muscles, which eases the pain. But while this offers some relief from head pain caused by tension, this will have NO effect on migraines.

Tips for managing tension headaches:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Practice common relaxation methods
  • Relax with a professional massage
  • Visit a sauna or seek aromatherapy
  • Reduce stress with holidays or by avoiding irritating people!