Does Gum Disease Cause Headaches?

If you have gum disease, also known as periodontal disease and also suffer from headaches, you may be wondering if the two are connected. Whilst there are many causes of headaches there is growing evidence that gum disease can result in headaches and migraines.

The body’s inflammatory response to the bacterial infection, bacterial byproducts and the consequences of gum disease such as gum recession, shifting teeth and altered bite may all cause headaches. 

It’s important to note that there are many causes of headaches, and you should always seek the advice of a medical doctor.

man with a headache

Types of Headaches

It’s fascinating to discover that there are 200 types of headaches. Among these, two prevalent types are tension headaches and inflammatory headaches. Tension headaches typically arise from muscle tightness or stress and are often described as a dull, achy pain that wraps around the head. On the other hand, inflammatory headaches, such as migraines, involve inflammation of blood vessels and release of pro-inflammatory molecules, leading to throbbing pain usually localised on one side of the head.

Gum Disease – A Quick Overview

Gum diseases are caused by the complex interaction of bacterial infection and the host’s response. The risk of developing the disease can be increased by lifestyle factors such as smoking and stress.

It’s well known that that the primary symptoms of gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease are red, swollen gums that bleed when brushed or pressure is applied. However, as the disease progresses to periodontitis, bone and ligaments that hold the teeth in place are destroyed leading to misaligned teeth, gum recession, sensitivity and even tooth loss that can all lead to tension headaches.

Gum disease is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue, driven by bacterial infection. These bacteria release harmful byproducts that damage the gums and structurea that hold the teeth in place. Growing evidence has shown that these bacteria and biproducts can travel to distant sites in the body and increase the risk of serious health conditions developing.

How Gum Disease Causes Headaches

Dental issues can cause and exacerbate headaches through a variety of interconnected mechanisms. The nerves in the jaw and teeth are linked to a network that extends to the head and neck. When dental problems arise, they can trigger nerve signals that manifest as headaches. 

Gum disease can lead to the following issues and dental problems that can cause headaches

  1. Inflammation: Gum disease leads to gum inflammation, potentially exacerbating systemic inflammation associated with migraines. See more on this below.
  2. Gum Recession: Receding gums expose tooth roots, causing sensitivity and discomfort that can contribute to stress-related tension headaches.
  3. Altered Bite/Jaw Alignment: Progression of gum disease can cause teeth to shift, altering jaw alignment and potentially leading to headaches, such as those from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.
  4. Root Cavities: Exposed tooth roots are more prone to decay, leading to inflammation that can affect nerves and muscles, potentially triggering headaches.
  5. Abscesses: Dental abscesses, caused by infection, induce pain and inflammation that can radiate and contribute to headache development, particularly tension headaches.
  6. Stress and Anxiety: Dealing with ongoing dental issues like gum disease can increase stress levels, a known trigger for headaches and migraines, indirectly raising the risk of headache occurrence.

The Link Between Migraines and Gum Disease

The connection between migraines and gum disease is gaining attention in medical research. It’s believed that chronic inflammation caused by gum disease could play a role in triggering or worsening migraines. Here’s how:

  1. Chronic inflammation: Gum disease triggers the release of inflammatory substances, which can activate the trigeminovascular system, a part of the nervous system involved in pain perception, potentially leading to migraines.
  2. Bacterial toxins: Bacteria from gum disease produce toxins like nitric oxide, nitrates, and nitrites, which are known migraine triggers.
  3. Spread of bacteria: Advanced gum disease can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune response, possibly activating pathways involved in migraine development.
  4. Trigeminovascular system activation: Gum disease can activate nerves connected to migraines, making them more likely to occur or intensifying existing episodes.
  5. Pain sensitivity: Chronic pain conditions like gum disease can increase overall pain sensitivity, making individuals more susceptible to migraine triggers.

Additionally, poor oral health, including gum disease, may indicate broader health issues linked to migraines, such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes.

Though these connections make sense, ongoing research is needed to fully understand the relationship between gum disease and migraines.

Beat Gum Disease Now

How To Reduce The Risk

To reduce the risk of headaches caused by gum disease-related dental issues, a combination of treatments and lifestyle adjustments can be beneficial:

  1. Treat Gum Disease: Address the gum disease itself through procedures like at-home treatments, scaling and root planing or, in severe cases, surgery.
  2. Addressing Cavities and Exposed Roots: Fill cavities, apply fluoride treatments, or perform root canals to address tooth decay and cover exposed roots. There are several toothpastes and medicines available to help with the symptoms of gum disease.
  3. Restorative Dental Work: Replace lost or damaged teeth with crowns, bridges, or implants to restore functionality and aesthetics.
  4. Orthodontic Treatment: Correct bite or jaw alignment issues with braces or aligners, especially if tooth shifting occurs due to gum disease.
  5. Physical Therapy: Consider physical therapy to improve jaw alignment and alleviate TMJ-related discomfort.
  6. Night Guards: Use dental guards to protect teeth and reduce jaw strain caused by clenching or grinding during sleep.
  7. Lifestyle Modifications: Maintain good oral hygiene, quit smoking, and manage conditions like diabetes to support gum health.
  8. Regular Dental Check-ups: Schedule routine dental visits for ongoing monitoring and maintenance of gum disease and dental alignment.
  9. Treat Abscesses: Address dental abscesses promptly through draining, antibiotics, root canals, or tooth extraction to alleviate infection-related headaches.

Treatment Options For Headaches Caused By Gum Disease

Addressing gum disease and its associated dental issues is crucial for treating headaches caused by gum disease. Additionally, over-the-counter medications like paracetamol/acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can provide relief. Consultation with a pharmacist or medical doctor for further guidance is recommended.

Sharon Fyles image

Written by Sharon Fyles

Periodontitis Expert & Writer

Sharon Fyles, BSc (Hons, SW), MSc, Dip,  is a Manchester-based expert dental writer specialising in periodontal diseases and their treatment.


Medically Reviewed and Verified by Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons), MFDS (RCPS Glasgow)

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