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Can Cavities Cause Headaches?

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A man in a blue flannel suffering from a headache possibly caused by cavities.

Most patients experience a cavity at some point in their lives, typically in childhood. Your dentist may have identified one during a dental exam in the past, but many patients wonder what symptoms to watch out for at home. 

While not a common symptom of a cavity, headaches can occur due to tooth decay. The irritation caused by a cavity may irritate your trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for your facial and eye movements. When this nerve is irritated, it can lead to migraines. 

While a headache may mean you have a cavity, make sure you know the other symptoms to watch for. 

What Is a Cavity?

A cavity is a small hole that forms in a tooth due to slow decay caused by plaque. When bacteria in your mouth produce acid, it can eat away at your enamel, causing a cavity to form over time. 

Once a cavity has formed, it’s important to have it filled by a dentist to prevent further damage to the tooth and potential infection. While cavities can significantly affect oral health, regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups can help prevent them from forming. 

Can Cavities Cause a Headache?

Cavities can cause headaches, typically due to the irritation of your trigeminal nerve, which controls your face and eye movements. It provides feeling to your lips, teeth, and gums. 

When your tooth aches due to a cavity, it may irritate this nerve, leading to a migraine. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Cavity?

A close-up of a woman applying pressure to her jaw after experiencing toothache.

Headaches aren’t the only potential symptom of a cavity, and these symptoms aren’t always immediately noticeable. It’s important to visit your dentist regularly so they can help diagnose cavities before they put your health at risk.

Common symptoms of a cavity include: 

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Black or white staining on the teeth
  • Tooth pain
  • A visible hole in the tooth

Cavity Development

Cavities develop when plaque builds up on the teeth, creating acid that eats away at the enamel. 

Tooth decay typically happens in 5 stages, including: 

  • Demineralization: Bacteria eat away at your enamel, the strong outer layer of the tooth. 
  • Enamel decay: As bacteria eats away at the enamel, it eventually breaks through, creating small holes in the tooth, which are cavities. 
  • Dentin decay: Dentin is underneath your enamel—the next part of the tooth attacked by bacteria. It’s softer, so decay tends to happen more quickly. 
  • Pulp decay: The pulp lies at the centre of your tooth, holding its blood vessels and nerves. When bacteria enter, the pulp swells, placing pressure on the nerves and eventually infecting the tooth. 
  • Abscess development: Bacteria can eventually cause an infection in the pulp, causing an abscess. This abscess can cause significant pain and even place your health at risk if it spreads into other areas of the body. At this stage of decay, your dentist may need to extract your tooth to protect your health. 

When Should You Visit Your Dentist for a Cavity?

Ideally, your dentist will identify a cavity in its early stages during a regular dental exam and cleaning. Every patient should visit their dentist at least 1–2 times yearly. These examinations are essential for diagnosing dental problems as early as possible. 

However, there are other ways to tell if you should visit your dentist for a cavity. It’s unlikely you’ll notice the early signs of tooth decay, but visit your dentist if you experience changes to your gums, including: 

  • Puffiness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Bleeding

How Can Your Dentist Treat a Cavity?

If you have a cavity, getting it treated sooner rather than later is important. Luckily, there are a few different options available for treatment.

Common cavity treatments include: 

  • Fillings: Fillings are a reliable treatment for cavities. They fill in the holes caused by tooth decay. The process involves drilling out the decayed portion of the tooth, cleaning it thoroughly, and then filling the area.
  • Crowns: A dental crown is a cap that covers the entire tooth to protect and restore its shape and size. During treatment, your dentist removes the decayed area and places a crown over the remaining tooth. 
  • Root canals: A root canal can help eliminate the discomfort and pain caused by a cavity. During the procedure, your dentist will remove the affected pulp and nerve tissues from the inside of your tooth. Once the root canal is complete, your dentist will fill the space and seal the tooth to prevent further damage or infection.
  • Extractions: If tooth decay has become severe, an extraction may be the only option to prevent further damage to surrounding teeth and gums. Your dentist removes the affected tooth from its socket, cleaning the area thoroughly to prevent infection. The removed tooth can then be replaced with an artificial one.

Don’t Delay When It Comes to Cavities

Cavities are a common dental problem, but proper dental hygiene can prevent them. Brush and floss daily and schedule regular dental exams. If your dentist diagnoses a cavity, they can help treat it as early as possible, protecting your oral health. Contact Shin Dentistry if you experience signs of a cavity.

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