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Avoiding migraines at the dentist

Have you ever met anyone who enjoyed going to the dentist? It’s not the most pleasant experience. For migraineurs, though, a trip to the dentist can be more than just uncomfortable.

As much as we’d like to just skip the whole experience, those visits are essential for our health. As migraineurs, we face unique challenges that require good dental hygiene and care. Frequent vomiting can erode tooth decay. Plus, many of our medicines can cause dry mouth, which can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay. Some medicines even increase our risk of gum disease! Dental problems have been linked to the development of cardiovascular disease, too. Because migraineurs already have an increased risk for heart problems, it just makes sense to keep those risk factors from stacking up too high.

But dental visits can also be filled with potential triggers. If the lights, sounds, and smells don’t get you, then the procedures certainly will. Because the trigeminal nerve extends into the face and jaw, all that extra pressure, vibration, scraping, poking, and drilling certainly puts stress on our most vulnerable nerve bundle. Depending on individual sensitivity, even a simple cleaning can set off an attack.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk.

  • Wear dark sunglasses, FL-41 tinted glasses, or an eye mask
  • Bring earbuds or headphones so you can listen to your favorite tunes or meditation recordings
  • Place a small pillow under your neck for support
  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing
  • Bring a jacket or sweater if the office is cold…or better yet, a soft blanket
  • Apply lip balm and/or OTC oral pain relief gel to your lips before you get started
  • Use a portable TENS unit on your neck and/or shoulders to help you stay relaxed
  • Apply Vicks under your nose or wear Better Breathers to mask unpleasant smells
  • Practice deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and guided meditation to help you remain calm
  • If making treatment decisions or appointments is anxiety-provoking, bring a buddy whom you can appoint to take over that task.
  • Ask for the first appointment of the day, early in the week. The staff is more likely to feel refreshed, take their time, and be more patient with your needs.

For more serious concerns, you can ask your doctor about pretreating with

  • A long-lasting NSAID or triptan (Ketoprofen, Frova, Amerge, etc.)
  • Muscle relaxer (Skelaxin, Flexeril, etc.)
  • Anxiolytic (Xanax, Klonopin, etc.)

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Dental Health and Heart Health, American Heart Association, Dec 20, 2013,
  2. Lloyd, William C, MD, FACS (Feb 6, 2015), 10 Medications That Cause Dry Mouth, HealthGrades,
  3. Robert, Teri (26 Feb 2014), Migraines and Oral Health - Avoiding Problems, Health Central,


  • katsock
    3 years ago

    This may be something that you all know but I wanted to pass it on just in case. My dentist told me not to brush right after throwing up but just rinse out my mouth. The teeth have been exposed to acid and brushing at that time will weaken the enamel so you can rinse out your mouth but not brush. I hope this helps someone.

  • tware
    3 years ago

    I used to HATE, HATE, HATE going to the dentist. I found that any work requiring numbing would give me migraine for days on end. So, going to the dentist meant having the fear of requiring some sort of dental work done and a bunch of migraines. Until I met a different dentist that told me the migraines triggered by dental work occurred because of the inclusion of epinephrine in the local anesthetic mixture (it helps reduce bleeding). Ever since, I make sure to tell a dentist, “NO EPINEPHRINE!” and I haven’t had any dental-visit related migraines since.

  • Mardie Crucchiola
    3 years ago

    No EPI I say and they ask why. I used to have panic attacks after EPI . I had 11 root canals on one side of mouth it’s the side of bellspalsey and migraines. I have to have deep root cleaning and I’m so scared next week. I’ve had migraines for 20 years.dies anyone have suggestion for the deep cleaning procedure.

  • mrst53
    3 years ago

    Not for me, a trip to the dentist is great. I have one tooth that a dentist messed up, so cleaning my gums helps a headache if I have one. Last time I went, I had a cavity. The dentist numbed the gum and I didn’t have a migraine for 2 days!
    I have also been to him, when the migraines were so bad and I couldn’t get to the pain clinic for a pain shot, and he gave me a numbing shot to help the headache pain.

  • Rhebel
    3 years ago

    This is so timely for me. I have an appointment tomorrow morning. In fact, I haven’t been to the dentist in over 18 months. No matter what, I get a quick onset monster migraine. I thought it was not worth the pain. Here’s what changed my mind. I had to go in to the dentist for an emergency crown repair. While there, I asked the technician if she would recommend a dental hygienist. I told her that the hygienist I had been paired with was not working for me. She would scrape a tooth, then immediately scoot over to her computer and type. Then she would repeat this process until every tooth was scraped and my mouth had been pried open for the better part of an hour. I asked for her to please clean quicker, but I guess she thought her process was more important. At the end of each cleaning she gave me the inevitable lecture about oral hygiene. Are you kidding me? I know full well my teeth aren’t perfect and most days I can’t stand the feel of a toothbrush or paste in my mouth. Not to mention the affects of medication, and the years of throwing up. I just don’t need the lecture. I would appreciate some kindness.

    So the technician was very compassionate and made me an appointment with a hygienist she promises will be awesome. And I believe she will be. I’m going to use the tips in this article and be responsible for my experience in the dentist chair.

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