How Toothaches and Headaches Are Related

Toothaches and headaches can be related, but not always for the same reasons. Tooth pain can cause head pain due to irritation of a shared nerve. Muscle stress from grinding your teeth can cause both symptoms. And an underlying condition, like a sinus infection or temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), can too.

This article describes some possible toothache/headache connections, as well as what you should know if you experience both symptoms together.

Toothaches: A Migraine Trigger

There are many reasons why a tooth might hurt, including cavities, cracks, and impaction (when a tooth doesn't fully come up out of the gums). If these conditions are left untreated, a person can even get a migraine.

Migraines are throbbing and usually one-sided headaches. The pain can also come along with other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light or sound.

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Experts believe that the connection between toothaches and migraines is the trigeminal nerve. This cranial nerve controls facial and eye movements and sensations. It provides feeling to most of your face, including your upper and lower lip, teeth, and gums.

The trigeminal nerve is thought to play a significant role in the development of migraines. In this case, pain from the toothache may irritate the nerve and set off a migraine.

Referred Tooth Pain to Your Head 

In addition to a toothache triggering a migraine, tooth decay or advanced gum disease can refer pain to the head.

Referred pain means that you feel a painful sensation in a part of the body that is different than the one where the pain is actually being caused. It's related to the many nerve connections (via the trigeminal nerve) that connect the teeth and other facial structures to the brain.

It's common for a person to go see their healthcare provider for tension-type headaches or migraines when they actually have a dental problem.

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

One classic example of referred pain to the head is bruxism, a condition where a person routinely clenches or grinds their teeth. Bruxism often occurs at night.

The headache that can be caused by bruxism is often described as a dull pain that wraps around the head or occurs behind the eyes. Other symptoms of bruxism are:

  • Sore teeth and jaw muscles
  • Clicking in the jaw joint
  • Trouble opening and closing the mouth

Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

It's rare, but an untreated dental problem can cause a serious, potentially life-threatening condition called cavernous sinus thrombosis. This means there is a blood clot in a space in the brain behind the eye (cavernous sinus). The clot happens when an infection in the face or head spreads to the brain.

A main symptom of the condition is a severe headache that's usually behind the eye or at the forehead. In addition to a severe headache, other symptoms of cavernous sinus thrombosis include:

  • High fever
  • Weak eye movement
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Eyeball protrusion (proptosis)

Underlying Health Problems

There are some conditions that can cause both a headache and toothache, but are not actually related to a dental or headache disorder.

Sinus Infection

A sinus infection can cause discomfort in one or several teeth, especially in your upper teeth located below the maxillary sinus (behind your cheekbones).

Another common symptom of a sinus infection is a sinus headache that gets worse when you bend forward.

Other signs and symptoms of sinus infection include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal congestion and yellow or green mucus
  • Ear pressure or fullness
  • Bad breath

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ or TMD) is another condition that can cause toothaches. TMJ happens because there is a problem with the jaw joint—which is in front of your ear—and the muscles around it.

Besides toothaches, TMJ often causes headaches (including migraines). TMJ headaches are usually described as an aching pain that starts near the ear and moves toward the jaw, temple, or neck. They are usually triggered by jaw motions, like chewing or opening and closing the mouth.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a pain disorder resulting from compression or damage of the trigeminal nerve. This disorder causes sudden attacks of excruciating, stabbing, or shock-like facial pain that almost always occurs on one side of the face only.

In many cases, the pain is felt along the upper or lower jaw. People often see their dentist before their healthcare provider because they think they have an abscessed tooth. In fact, it's not uncommon for a person to have one or more unnecessary root canals or tooth extractions before receiving a diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

If you experience a new, persistent toothache and/or headache, see your healthcare provider. Figuring out the underlying cause can be tricky, but it's important that you get the right diagnosis so you can get the right treatment.

If you've had dental procedures for toothaches but they haven't helped, talk to your healthcare provider about seeing a healthcare professional who specializes in headaches, nerve conditions, orear, nose, and throat issues.


Headaches and toothaches can be related. For example, a toothache can trigger a migraine, or a dental condition like bruxism can cause referred pain in your head.

Some conditions that can cause such pain, like sinus infections, are not related to a dental or primary headache disorder. Working with your healthcare provider is key to determining the underlying cause and source of your pain—and getting the right treatment.

A Word From Verywell

If you have tooth pain and headaches at the same time, it might take time and seeing more than one kind of provider before you get answers. It's important to keep working toward the right diagnosis so you can get the right treatment for what's causing your pain.

It might be that all you need is to get a cavity filled, take an antibiotic for a sinus infection, or start wearing a mouthguard at night to keep from grinding your teeth. If the problem is more complex, you may need to see a specialist. And the sooner you see one, the better.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.