Teeth grinding is very bad for your teeth. It can lead to excessive wear, cracking, and even early tooth loss. 

But can teeth grinding cause other problems beyond your mouth, like headaches and neck pain?

Yes, although often headaches, neck pain, and teeth grinding are all symptoms of another condition.

woman at home suffering from neck pain

What Causes Teeth Grinding?

Teeth grinding and clenching are known by the technical name of bruxism. Bruxism can have many potential causes. Understanding the causes of your teeth grinding can help identify how your grinding is linked to your headaches and neck pain. Then you can hopefully identify treatments that will resolve all your symptoms.

Some of the common causes of bruxism include:

  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ/TMD)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stress
  • Caffeine, Alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs

Once you’ve identified the cause of your bruxism, you can identify treatment steps to take for relief from grinding as well as headaches and neck pain. 

Linking Grinding, Headaches, and Neck Pain

The main link between teeth grinding, headaches, and neck pain is your muscles. 

In bruxism, your jaw muscles are often working much harder than they do for voluntary tasks, such as biting, chewing, and talking. This is part of the reason why bruxism is so destructive to your teeth.

However, this can also be the key to the link between your bruxism, headaches, and neck pain. The muscles in your head and neck all work together. When some muscles are stressed, they pass that stress on to other muscles they partner with. Your jaw muscles are also the largest and strongest muscles in your head. When these muscles are stressed, it can radiate outward.

This is one of the most common ways that bruxism leads to headaches and neck pain. The tension in your jaw muscles stresses muscles in the head and neck, leading them to be tender and painful. You experience tension headaches and related neck pain. However, there are also other potential causes linking bruxism, headaches, and neck pain, depending on the cause of your bruxism.

TMJ, Headaches, and Neck Pain

TMJ occurs when your jaw system isn’t working in proper harmony. Instead of having your jaw muscles in a relaxed position when you’re not using them, they can settle in a painful and stressed position because the shape of the teeth, the form of the jaw, and the condition of the muscles can’t agree on the best resting position of the jaw. This means that instead of resting when you’re not using them, your jaw muscles are working hard trying to force your jaw into position. This can obviously lead to tension headaches, as above.

However, TMJ can also lead to other types of headaches and neck pain. TMJ is strongly linked to migraine headaches. Pressure on or overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve can trigger migraines. The trigeminal nerve carries signals from the brain to the jaw muscles, and carries pain signals back. When the jaw muscles are constantly working and sending back pain signals, this can lead to overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve, which sets off migraines.

Jaw muscles can also put pressure on the trigeminal nerve, setting off other types of migraine.

Finally, TMJ is an imbalance in your jaw, which can cause an imbalance in your neck. This neck imbalance can lead to a pinched nerve in the neck, causing neck pain.

Treating TMJ can reduce or eliminate most of these types of pains, and prevent others. 

Sleep Apnea, Headaches, and Neck Pain

Sleep apnea is often linked to sleep bruxism. Sleep apnea occurs when your airway collapses during sleep so you can’t breathe. Your jaw, which helps support your airway, can clench closed to try to hold the airway open. This leads to the tension in your head and neck that causes related headaches and neck pain.

Sleep apnea is linked to migraines. People with sleep apnea are much more likely to experience migraines. In addition, people with sleep apnea often experience morning headaches, simply called sleep apnea headaches.

Effective treatment of sleep apnea can reduce or eliminate related headaches and neck pain. 

Stress, Headaches, and Neck Pain

It’s not uncommon for people to clench their teeth when they’re stressed. This leads to tension headaches and related neck pain.

Trying to eliminate sources of stress or finding healthier ways to cope with stress can help you avoid or eliminate bruxism related to stress. 

Substance Use, Headaches, and Neck Pain

Overusing of substances can contribute to bruxism, which then causes headaches and neck pain. Stimulants like caffeine, tobacco, and some illegal drugs can make you clench your teeth more often. This in turn leads to more headaches, and can potentially aggravate conditions like TMJ.

Relaxants like alcohol, sleeping pills, and some illegal drugs can make your airway more likely to collapse at night, which worsens sleep apnea, leading to more migraines or sleep apnea headaches. 

Protect Your Teeth and Avoid Headaches in Fort Atkinson

If you are experiencing bruxism and seeing related effects like headaches and neck pain, it’s time to do something about it. At Bite Align, we can help you identify the cause of your bruxism and recommend appropriate treatment. We can offer TMJ treatment, oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea, or even a bite guard that protects your teeth from the excessive wear caused by bruxism.

To learn how we can help, please call (920) 563-7323 or email us to schedule an appointment with a dentist at Bite Align in Fort Atkinson, WI.