Why Do I Have a Headache After Tooth Extraction?

Have you had a tooth extracted? Do you now have a headache?

Headaches are relatively common after tooth extractions. Although they are common, post tooth extraction headaches shouldn’t last long. There are things you can do to limit the headache.

As a busy working dentist, I often get asked by patients about headaches after extractions.

There is some information that may help with the relief of your headache.

headache after tooth extraction
How to deal with a headache after tooth extraction. Is it normal?

In this article, I will give my professional opinion as a qualified dentist.

  • We discuss whether headaches after tooth extractions are normal
  • Is muscle tension the cause of post-extraction headache
  • Can anxiety make the headache worse
  • Is a headache for days after tooth extraction normal
  • Could a long-term headache indicate infection after tooth extraction?

Headache after Tooth Extraction – Is it normal?

Removing a tooth is not always simple. It really is removing a small body part! There is local anesthetic, lots of pushing and pulling, and you have to keep your mouth open for sometimes a fairly long time.

Occasionally a patient will have a headache after a tooth extraction, but it should not last for too long. Headache after tooth removal happens occasionally but is not expected after every extraction.

There are four main reasons why you may have a headache after an extraction. While headaches after extraction are rare, I sometimes see them with my patients and typically these are the four most common causes.

  1. The jaw and facial muscles can become very tense during the extraction procedure. This is the most common cause
  2. Anxiety can have an intense effect on the body. Recovering from fear or nervousness prior to or during the procedure can result in a headache a few hours after having the tooth out
  3. Infection that is present before or after the extraction can sometimes result in a headache
  4. Dry socket after an extraction is sometimes associated with a fairly severe headache
headches are sometimes caused by jaw issues
Muscle, jaw, and teeth issues can be linked to bad headaches.

Each of these causes has a different solution to relieve the headache. Below I will list my typical recommendations to help ease post-extraction headaches.

No matter the cause of the headache – it’s best to follow your dentist’s post-extraction instructions closely and to take any medication recommended.

If the headache continues for more than a couple of days or if you can’t stop taking your medication, you’ll need to contact your dentist to discuss it further.

Jaw muscles causing headache after extraction

Opening your jaw wide during the extraction or treatment procedure can cause muscular and joint discomfort. This discomfort may trigger headaches or migraines.

For many people, sore muscles in the jaw after any dental work is not uncommon.

When you have a tooth extracted sometimes the movements of wiggling the tooth out can lightly strain the jaw muscles. A strained muscle (like the masseter muscle or the temporalis muscle) can cause headache.

The face muscles are also very active, even after extraction. The muscles of the jaw are used to chew food, talk, and smile. So they can sometimes get sore during use after the muscle has been strained during an extraction

Ways to ease sore muscles after tooth extraction (and reduce headache)

  • Short 20 minute or fewer stints with an ice pack can reduce muscle swelling and help with the pain. After placing the ice pack for 20 minutes, give it a 40-minute rest. We don’t want to freeze ourselves too much!
  • Some dentists and pharmacists recommend antiinflammatory painkillers – but this will change depending on the type of extraction and surgery. Call your Doctor or Dentist for advice before taking or changing anything.
  • You need to eat, but chewy and tough foods are not a good option.
  • Rest, relax, and avoid demanding situations where you need to talk or smile a lot.
misisng tooth front of mouth photo
Patients that are missing teeth close to the front of the mouth often want a fast solution.

Anxiety and Fear of the Dentist Can Give You a Headache After Tooth Extraction

You won’t meet many people that are excited to have a tooth extracted. Even when a tooth is painful or diseased, a typical patient is a bit apprehensive about having a tooth removed.

Anxiety and fear can give you a headache. And recovering from being nervous or anxious can give you a whopper of a headache.

This is why some people get headaches for a few hours after dental work.

The more intense symptoms of dental anxiety during a tooth extraction include

  • chest tightness
  • difficulty in concentrating
  • shaking hands
  • dry mouth
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • difficulty in breathing
  • blurred vision
  • sweating

Even my most nervous patients are usually thrilled once the tooth is out, and leave feeling very happy. However, the anxiety that they were feeling earlier can have an effect hours later – even when they are no longer feeling nervous.

Essentially this is a form of tension headache.

There are no instant cures for a tension headache, but the folks over at calm clinic recommend the following (Calm Clinic guide to tension headaches)

  • Painkillers if you can take them
  • Closing your eyes in a dark space, and rubbing the temples for five minutes
  • Take a warm shower and see if the head can relax you
  • Ask someone to give you a gentle massage
Dry Socket is a big risk for a smoker after they have a tooth removed

Is a headache DAYS after tooth extraction normal?

It is not typical to have a headache for multiple days after an extraction.

If there is muscle pain or spasm this can take a few days to settle, but you should be seeing significant topical relief with ice or heat packs and perhaps anti-inflammatory painkillers.

If you have a serious headache DAYS after an extraction, you need to contact your dentist for advice straight away.

There are many reasons that a headache can persist, two of which are rare but seen sometimes.

1) Infection after a tooth removal can cause headache

When I take out teeth for my patients, they are rarely healthy teeth. Usually, there is either some decay, abscess, repeat gum infection, or other condition that has compromised the tooth.

This means sometimes there is a little infection before the tooth is taken out.

On top of this, you can also get a new infection as the wound heals. After all, there are millions of bacteria in the mouth and we use our mouths to eat and talk (and sing and laugh).

Infection after dental extraction is rare – but it does happen. It occurs in well less than 5% of cases in my practice.

If you have a headache that starts days after the tooth removal or just won’t go away – there is a chance your body is fighting an infection.

Signs of infection after tooth extraction include

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Pus
  • Really bad tastes (though a healing extraction does taste bad anyway)

If you suspect infection, you need to call your dental clinic. Don’t risk anything – call for advice. It is nothing they won’t have heard before – and they can offer tailored advice to help you recover.

Dry socket can also cause headache after extraction

A dry socket is when the blood clot that forms over an extraction site falls out of place. If you have a dry socket, your mouth will be extremely painful and you’ll experience throbbing pain. When people experience dry sockets, they often develop a headache.

Dry socket following tooth extraction is not really an infection – it is rather a delay to healing that is very painful.

Manage this with warm salt water rinses, and book to see your dentist right away. It is not a major complication – just a painful one. There are dentist specific treatments that can ease the pain until the dry socket resolves itself.

(Typically we either dress the dry socket with special medicine, or sometimes we create a new blood clot and even restitch).

temporary crown trying in
Trying in a temporary crown. Once it is polished I use a temporary cement to glue it in place.

Can dental injections cause headaches after extraction?

Local anaesthetics (injections) are occasionally associated with headaches for some people. It is not super common – but not unheard of. Although the amount of local anesthetic I use when removing a tooth gives wonderful numbing – it is actually a very small and safe dose. Most dentists are similar.

If a headache is caused by a local anesthetic, it will pass in a few hours. It might also happen if you have a filling, or treatment elsewhere on the body requiring local. Be mindful and discuss with your doctor or dentist before any future work.

An Interesting Cluster Headache Extraction Link

There are rare cases where a cluster headache has resolved after removal of a problem tooth. It needs to be stressed that this is super rare (see this journal article for an example) and most of the time removing a tooth won’t benefit or worsen cluster headaches.

The Bottom Line

There are many reasons someone can have a headache after tooth extraction.

Among these, there is the possibility of infection, dry socket, or even dental injections. Muscle soreness and anxiety can also be triggers for headaches after tooth removal.

Local measures such as painkillers (as recommended by a doctor or pharmacist only), cold packs, being sure to eat, and rest – tend to reduce the headache. Most will see it improve soon.

If your headache persists for days after tooth extraction or any of these don’t work then you need to contact your dentist for advice straight away

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