What do ice cream and TMJ have in common? They’re both ways that your mouth can cause headaches. And now it seems that ice cream headaches may be more similar to migraines than we ever thought before.

Ice Cream Headaches May Be Vascular

The scientific name of ice cream headaches is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, but they’re also known as “brain freeze.” In the past, they were often thought to be an example of referred pain, when pain in one part of your body is felt in another because the two body parts report pain on the same nerve. In this case, the pain in the roof of your mouth was felt as a headache because both report along the trigeminal nerve.

A new explanation says they may be caused by the sudden increase in blood flow to the brain. A  2012 study traced the blood flow in the brains of 13 volunteers as they drank ice water through a straw. The straw forced the cold water against their palate, which is the trigger point for ice cream headaches. Researchers found that the painful headache was actually caused by an increase in blood flow in the brain’s anterior cerebral artery. Because the skull is a closed system, increases in blood flow put pressure on brain tissues resulting in pain. Researchers also noted that pain went away when the artery constricted and blood flow dropped.

The lead researcher attributed the response to a defense mechanism that is intended to protect the brain from damaging temperature shifts. When the cold liquid hits the palate, the body floods the brain with blood to help keep it warm. The headache is just a side effect.

Although this research is a promising lead, it was only reported at a scholarly conference, and not published in a journal, which means it hasn’t been reviewed by other scientists for accuracy and significance.

Brain Freeze and Migraines

The current leading explanation for migraines is that they are also caused by dilation of blood vessels in the brain. The only problem is we don’t know what triggers the dilation or resolves it. Even before there was good evidence that brain freeze was vascular in origin, people have postulated a connection between the two. For a long time, people thought that migraines and brain freeze were related and that people who had migraines were more likely to get brain freeze, until a 1992 study showed that people with migraines were less likely to get brain freeze headaches.

Although the 1992 study concludes, “the ice cream headache seems not to have any special significance for migraine patients,” anecdotal evidence points in a different direction. Many migraine sufferers report that inducing an ice cream headache can stop a migraine in its early phases.

Why this would be so is unclear, since a double influx of blood would seem to increase the pain of a headache, not relieve it, but perhaps inducing an ice cream headache somehow regulates the blood flow associated with migraines.

Remember, though, this evidence is anecdotal, and has no scientific basis or verification.

Proven Drug-Free Migraine Treatment

If you are looking for a proven drug-free migraine treatment, TMJ treatment may be the answer for you. Not all migraine sufferers have TMJ, but if TMJ is acting as a trigger for your migraines, studies have shown that treatment can reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches.

To learn whether TMJ treatment can help your migraines, please contact Beyond Exceptional Dentistry in the Hilton Head, SC area today.