Readers ask, we answer: What's causing these headaches?

Emma asks:

"What's the source of my headache?

Have a question you’d like us to answer? Send it to, and it could be featured in an upcoming issue.

Hi, Emma! Your headache — even a migraine — could originate in (or be aggravated by) your mouth or jaw. Here are a few common oral causes of headaches. Just be sure to remember that even the best advice is no replacement for a medical diagnosis. If you are experiencing extended or repeated headaches, please consult a licensed medical professional. 

1. Teeth grinding

Do you grind or clench your teeth during the day or night? How about when you're stressed, upset or frustrated? This condition is called bruxism, and it can trigger headaches, damage teeth and lead to pain in your face or jaw.

If stress is the cause, exercise and meditation may help calm uneasy feelings and reduce stress during the day. For nighttime grinding and clenching, your dentist may recommend a mouthguard to relieve painful symptoms.

2. Jaw pain

Your temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull — and allows you to talk, laugh and chew. For people suffering from disorders of the joint and surrounding muscles (also known as TMJ), pain can occur and travel around the head and neck. Almost half the nation’s population report temporomandibular disorders, including headaches. TMJ disorders can also trigger migraines.

Your dentist or physician can best diagnose the problem. Stress, anxiety or depression could be the source of your TMJ-related headaches or migraines. Avoid nibbling on your nails or any other non-food object (such as pencils), which can cause and aggravate TMJ pain.

3. Teeth or jaw alignment

Similar to TMJ disorders, jaw and teeth misalignment is yet another cause of headaches and migraines. This misalignment can lead to uncomfortable muscle strain.

Crowns, braces or oral surgery may help correct your bite. Since every mouth is different, your dentist will be able to determine the best treatment for you and your smile.

4. Tooth decay

Cavities, toothaches, tooth infections and gum disease can just plain hurt. Unfortunately, this can also mean headaches. The trigeminal is the largest sensory nerve in the head, and it runs throughout the face and jaw and is responsible for chewing, biting and assorted facial sensations. Pain in one part of the trigeminal nerve can also trigger pain elsewhere.

In this case, an ounce of prevention can save a pound of cure. Reduce your risk of cavities by maintaining a good oral health routine of brushing and flossing daily, eating healthy foods and visiting the dentist regularly. 

At your next appointment, tell your dentist if you’re experiencing frequent headaches. Your dentist can help diagnose whether an oral health problem might be at the root of the issue. Not all headaches are dental-related, so check with your physician if you’re concerned.