Headache Caused by Sleep-Related Bruxism, Symptoms and Treatment

bruxism causing headache

If you ever wake up in the morning with a sore jaw and tension headache, then you may be clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth on your sleep. This is called bruxism, which is a type of sleep disorder. Headaches caused by sleep-related bruxism is pretty common. Often, however, people mistake it with migraines when in fact it is a headache caused by severe muscle tension around the jaw area. 

Understanding Headache Caused by Sleep-Related Bruxism

Headaches are pretty common in the general population and can be caused by many different factors. It can be associated with other conditions such as cold or flu, eyesight problems, bad posture, stress, and overuse of pain medication. It can also be linked to lifestyle factors such as drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, stress, and lack of sleep. 

If you suffer from persistent headaches, it could be a symptom of a bigger problem such as bruxism. But how do you know your headache is mouth-jaw related?

The best person who can diagnose your condition is your physician or your ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist). They will look for underlying infections that may be contributing to your headaches. 

To find out if the headache is caused by bruxism, doctors usually use the Spray and Stretch technique. This involves the use of a vapocoolant spray on the jaw muscle area to see if the pain subsides. If the headache responds to this test, then it usually means the condition is caused by muscle tension, muscle irritability, or Trismus (commonly known as lockjaw). Fortunately, muscle-tension types of headaches are easier to treat than a true migraine. 

Common Causes of Bruxism-Related Headaches

Each case is different and there is no single cause of bruxism. There are, however, many contributory factors aside from the ones mentioned above. It can also be linked to other conditions like allergies, dehydration, sleep disorder or a side effect of pain medications. 

If you have sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or snoring, it is important to have it checked out by an expert. 

Symptoms of Bruxism-Related Headaches

It is not difficult to understand how the jaw may be causing headaches when you realize how far the jaw muscles stretch. Some of the most common symptoms of sleep-related headaches include:

  • Earache, headache, sinus pain – Earache and headache around the temple area can be the tell-tale sign of excessive jaw clenching and teeth grinding, especially if you experience it in the morning. 
  • Migraine – People with a history of migraine, bruxism can trigger migraine attacks.
  • Sore or tender jaw and facial muscles or joints – As said earlier, soreness or tenderness of the jaw area can be a symptom of tensed muscle
  • Stiff neck – Teeth clenching and grinding can affect muscles that surround the jaw area, including the neck. 
  • Enlarged jaw muscles – Since the jaw muscles are overworked from strenuous clenching and grinding, they can overdevelop and look enlarged.
  • Dental wear – Persistent headaches does not only cause pain, it can also cause serious oral health problems such as chipped and cracked teeth, loose and sensitive teeth, and even teeth loss. 
  • Reduced mouth function – basic mouth function such as chewing, speaking, yawning, or swallowing of food can be painful due to tight muscles and jaw joint with limited range of movement

Treatments for Headaches Caused by Bruxism

Mouth guards

Also known as night guard or occlusal splint, mouth guards are prescribed by dentists and custom-fitted to perfectly fit to your mouth. It is one of the most common and best treatments available in relieving the strain in the jaw caused by teeth clenching and grinding. However, many do not stop or reduce the frequency of clenching and grinding throughout the night.

headache caused by bruxism mouth guard

Healthy sleep habit

Treatment for bruxism starts with a good sleep habit. This means restricting alcohol and caffeine intake and avoiding smoking before bedtime. It is also recommended to limit mental and physical activity, reduce stress, and to avoid stimulating electronic devices (TV and mobile phones). 

Regular exercise

It is a proven fact that regular exercise can manage and reduce stress. The release of endorphins helps relieve minor aches and pains in the body.

Meditation

Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, yoga, and Tai Chi can also help manage stress and anxiety and give you better control of your body. There may be no strong evidence in literature on the efficacy of this type of treatment, but its benefits are largely related to stress and anxiety management. 

Medication

Muscle relaxants can be used for a short period of time to manage bruxism. However, long term use is largely discouraged since it can lead to drug dependence. 

Physical therapy

Massage and physical therapy can greatly help in reducing tension and stiffness of the muscles, including facial muscles.

facial massage for bruxism caused headache

Botox

New studies show promising results in reducing the force and strength activity of bruxism and severity of migraine. However, it doesn’t seem to change the frequency of jaw clenching. Also, its effects typically wear off at around 12 weeks. 

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Dr. Manish Shah tmj and sleep specialist

Dr. Manish Shah

  • BDS, MBBS, MMED (Sleep Medicine)
  • Masters in Sleep Medicine
  • General Medical Practitioner
  • General, Implant and Cosmetic Dentist
  • Certified in TMJ & Craniofacial Pain Management
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