Sometimes, your oral heath can be enough to give you a headache ― literally. Oral health has been linked to a number of painful conditions that affect the head and neck, including headaches and even migraines.

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, so what better time to learn about how oral health and head, neck and jaw pain are related? Here are some of the main culprits and some steps you can take to protect your employees.

What are dental conditions that might cause headaches?

Bruxism

Bruxism is a fancy word for teeth grinding. Grinding or clenching your teeth can lead to chronic conditions such as headaches, jaw pain and sensitive teeth. Over time, bruxism can seriously damage your tooth enamel and even cause your jaw to move out of proper alignment.

TMJ

Temporomandibular disorder, also known as TMJ, refers to a variety of conditions that affect TM joints, jaw muscles and facial nerves. TMJ may occur when the jaw twists during opening, closing or side-motion movements. TMJ can cause headaches as well as neck aches.

Dental infections and bacteria

Not surprisingly, cavities and infections can also lead to headaches. What might be more surprising is that bacteria in your mouth may lead to migraines.

Certain oral bacteria can cause nitrates in food to produce nitric acids, which causes blood vessels to dilate and blood flow to increase. This in turn can trigger headaches, including migraines. Researchers have found that people who suffer from migraines have a higher concentration of these bacteria in their mouths than people who don’t.

How can I protect my employees from headaches?

Encourage good oral hygiene

Good old-fashioned brushing and flossing is the best way to prevent cavities and rid your mouth of the harmful bacteria that can contribute to migraines.

Encourage your employees to brush and floss during work, particularly after lunch. Another simple way help employees is to let them know about the surprising benefits chewing gum sweetened with xylitol, which can actually reduce decay-causing oral bacteria.

Finally, don’t forget to let employees know about BrushSmart™, a free oral wellness program available to all Delta Dental members, designed to help improve oral care at home. By signing up, your employees can access special offers from popular oral health care brands.

Promote preventive care

Exams and cleanings help keep teeth healthy, reduce the bacteria that can cause migraines and prevent decay that can lead to headaches. An added bonus is that during an exam, the dentist can also look for other causes of headaches, such as bruxism, jaw misalignment or TMJ. The dentist can then suggest treatments, such as orthodontics or even oral surgery.

If you haven’t, consider adding the D&P Maximum Waiver® to your plan. Diagnostic and preventive care procedures won’t count against your plan’s annual maximums, which encourages your employees to take advantage of these services ― and may help them avoid costly procedures down the line.

A healthy diet can help, too!

Help your employees find ways to improve their diet. A diet low in refined sugar helps prevent decay and migraine-causing bacteria. Avoiding foods high in nitrates like processed meats can also help employees avoid migraines, and drinking fluoridated water helps to strengthen teeth and wash away harmful bacteria.

Consider offering healthy snacks in your office vending machine and suggesting healthy, teeth-friendly recipes.

Help reduce stress

Stress contributes to oral conditions such as bruxism and TMJ, both of which are common causes of headaches. And stress eating unhealthy food high in sugar and nitrates can not only harm teeth and gums, but they can also trigger migraines.

To help, provide employees with strategies for reducing their stress, including exercise programs, mediation and even repainting common spaces in soothing colors!

These are just a few of the ways to help ensure your employees remain healthy, happy and most importantly, headache free. For more ideas and information, share the wellness resources Delta Dental offers for National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.