Can bruxism cause headaches? Bruxism is the involuntary grinding, gnashing, or clenching of teeth and it can happen during sleep or while you’re awake. When this grinding or clenching becomes associated with headache symptoms, it’s referred to as a “bruxism headache”. Here’s what you need to know about the different kinds of headaches associated with bruxism and what you can do to get relief.
While there may not be a causal link between teeth grinding and headaches, there is a strong association between the two. The three types of headaches associated with bruxism are morning headaches, tension type headaches, and migraine headaches.
Sleep bruxism is involuntary teeth grinding that happens when you are asleep. In fact, the newest diagnostic system (ICD-10) classifies sleep bruxism as a sleep disorder. There appears to be a connection between sleep bruxism and “wake up” headaches. For instance, a 2020 study in the journal Headache documents a statistically significant association between sleep bruxism and morning headaches.
There are two possible mechanisms for the connection between sleep bruxism and morning headaches. First, sleep bruxism must be considered in the context of other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. Morning headaches are classically from “hypoxia” or decreased oxygen, so a morning headache with sleep bruxism might be indicating the presence of sleep apnea. Second, a morning bruxism headache could be secondary to fatigue and muscle soreness from the constant jaw muscle contraction throughout the night. Once a person wakes up and the bruxism stops, the jaw slowly relaxes and the headache subsides.
A tension headache is defined as a diffuse band-like headache with dull, aching pain, including possible tightness or tenderness in the scalp, neck, and shoulder area. The causes of tension headaches are variable, but they include muscle tension, sore muscles, and stress.
The scientific literature supports a statistical association between bruxism and tension type headaches, according to the International Headache Society. This makes sense considering the connection between teeth grinding, jaw muscle tension and fatigue, and tension headaches. Bruxism fatigues the “masticatory muscles” (the eating muscles), leading to soreness from the microtrauma of overactivation. It is precisely this region where tension type headaches are typically located.
A migraine headache is commonly experienced as a throbbing or pulsing pain. The classic accompanying symptoms are sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, and even vomiting. The headache can last from 4 to 72 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There is a well-established association between migraine headaches and teeth grinding. This is a puzzling finding because the immediate cause of migraines is the dilation of the arteries deep in the brain. How then could bruxism be related to a deep-brain blood flow issue? “The answer appears to be due to a phenomenon called ‘peripheral sensitization’. When the trigeminal nerve sends pain signals from the TMJ to the brain, it triggers a chemical cascade that results in the onset of a migraine,” explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, a specialist in orofacial pain disorders.
Neurologists and orofacial pain specialists commonly treat migraine headaches with Botox, including injections of Botox to quiet the masseter muscles of the jaw. This has opened up an entire new awareness of the impact of jaw muscle activation as a trigger for headache. Orofacial pain has known this association for years and this agent has helped to merge the two fields of medicine and orofacial pain.
The treatment for a bruxism headache depends on the type of headache and its cause. For instance, if you are having morning headaches, consider getting a sleep study to check for sleep apnea. If you have tension type or migraine headaches, consider consulting your primary doctor to see if medications or other treatments will help with pain relief.
Beyond this, there are some simple home measures you can take today to relieve the jaw strain from bruxism:
These measures, plus additional jaw relaxation strategies, are included in the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit. While it may take weeks to see your medical provider, you can start your journey towards bruxism headache relief today!