How Dental Problems Can Trigger Migraine Headaches

Medically Reviewed by Murtaza Cassoobhoy, MD on May 26, 2023
3 min read

If you get migraines, one thing's certain: You want to find a way to stop them. While you feel a migraine in your head, one cause may reside in your mouth and jaw.

You have two temporomandibular joints (TMJs) that connect the sides of your jaw to your skull. They help you open and close your mouth when you talk, eat, and yawn. Pain that starts in those joints or the muscles around them can travel to your skull and lead to a migraine

Many things can cause jaw pain. One possibility is that you clench your jaw or grind your teeth. You might clench your jaw throughout the day when you feel stressed. Or you may grind your teeth together at night while you sleep. You may not be aware that you do either of these things.

Signs that you clench your jaw or grind your teeth include:

  • Your teeth are flat, broken, chipped, or loose.
  • Your teeth feel more sensitive.
  • You have pain or soreness in your jaw or face.
  • Your jaw feels tired or tight.
  • You have an earache, but there's no problem with your ears.

Another cause of TMJ pain that can lead to a migraine is an issue with your bite. This can happen if you're missing a tooth or your teeth don't line up right. A problem with your bite may mean that the muscles in your jaw have to work harder to bring your upper and lower teeth together. Over time, that can become painful.

If you chew gum often, that can lead to TMJ pain, too. Lots of chewing strains your jaw. It's like lifting a weight over and over again. As a result, you can have pain and soreness in your jaw. 

If an issue with your TMJ is causing your migraines, your headaches probably will get better when you treat that problem. Your dentist will be able to check your teeth, jaw, and muscles to see what's causing your pain.

If you grind or clench your teeth, they might recommend a mouth guard that fits over your upper or lower teeth and keeps them apart while you sleep so you can't grind them together.

These devices are available over the counter. But they can make your problem worse. If they don't fit well, they can make you clench your teeth even more. It's much better to have a dentist fit you for a custom mouthguard.

If your teeth don't line up the way they should, your dentist may suggest dental treatments to correct your bite. This might include crowns, braces, or oral surgery.

Some people grind or clench their teeth because of stress. If you think this may be the case for you, some things, like exercise, therapy, or meditation, can help you manage it.

Other lifestyle changes can make a difference, too:

  • Don't chew on your fingernails, lips, cheeks, or other objects like pens.
  • Use a hands-free device when you talk on the phone to keep pressure off your head and jaw.
  • Don't chew gum.
  • Stay away from sticky or crunchy foods that make your jaw work harder.
  • Cut food like hamburgers or apples into smaller pieces so you don't have to take big bites.
  • Try to relax your jaw and keep your upper and lower teeth apart during the day.