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Can TMJ Be the Cause of Migraine or Severe Headaches?

Posted in TMJ

Posted on September, 20 2022 by Dr Gerald M. Marlin, DMD, MSD

The Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction Syndrome, commonly known as TMJ or TMD, may be as mild as low-grade pain in your jaw, or may be much more intrusive with severe headaches or migraines that impact your quality of life. Even though the name, TMJ or TMD suggests that the pain comes from the temporomandibular joints, themselves, it most frequently evolves from trigger points (microscopic areas of inflammation) in the muscles of mastication of your jaws. They either translate to pain at the sites or refer pain to the jaws, head and neck, or associated structures such as the ear and eye.

Headaches are one of the most common complaints of people experiencing a temporomandibular joint disorder [1]. However, people may not realize that their head discomfort can be related to their jaw. Patients can even have ear pain or hearing problems as the result of the TMJ Dysfunction Syndrome.

In addition, people who are prone to headaches or migraines in general may experience even worse pain when also undergoing the temporomandibular joint disorder. Here’s how to know if your jaw pain could be the cause of those painful headaches.

Headaches vs. Headaches Related to TMJ

How do you know if you’re experiencing a headache that’s related to TMJ pain?

People who have severe headaches or migraines due to TMJ disorders almost always have other symptoms that coexist with their head pain. These symptoms most often include: 

  • Odd clicking or popping noises when moving the jaw
  • Muscle pain or tenderness around your temporomandibular joints (which are located close to your ears on either side of your head)
  • Difficulty fully opening your mouth or limited jaw movement
  • Earaches or hearing impairment in one or both ears [2]

However, just because you don’t have additional symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean your head discomfort is not TMJ-related.

Why TMJ Disorders Can Influence Migraines or Headaches 

Although each case is different, it’s possible that the trigger points or, even, the trigeminal nerve, a major cranial nerve that provides feeling to your face, influences headache development in those patients with a TMJ disorder.

The trigeminal nerve controls the muscles for chewing as well as feeling for your eyes, forehead, lips, and nose. A TMJ disorder may trigger trigeminal nerve inflammation, which can affect different areas of your face and potentially exacerbate jaw pain and influence headache development.

Pain from the trigeminal nerve or a TMD disorder can feel like it is radiating outward from the face and jaw to the neck and even the shoulders and back, especially if there is an increase in facial or jaw movement.

Most frequently,  jaw misalignment is the root cause of the pain patients with TMJ experience, including headaches.  However, a previous injury to the jaw or overuse of the joint through teeth grinding, may also trigger the inflammation or discomfort seen with TMJ, which could lead to tense muscles that can cause a tension headache [3].

TMJ-related headache pain can be multi-faceted and require a professional diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis and Treatment for TMJ-Related Head Pain

Severe headaches or migraines resulting from TMJ discomfort require individualized treatment as each patient is unique.

Typically, the first step is meeting with a dentist experienced in temporomandibular joint disorders and having a comprehensive exam. Your dentist will also likely want to do x-rays or advanced imaging technology, such as a CT scan, to identify any abnormalities or inflammation in your jaw [4].

Your treatment will depend on what is causing your TMJ disorder or headaches. Depending on the situation, treatment may include correcting a jaw injury or misalignment, fixing incorrectly placed dental crowns or restorations, and other therapies.

At Elite Prosthetic Dentistry, Dr. Marlin & Dr. Talmazov treat patients with TMJ discomfort by using advanced diagnostics to identify the root cause of their pain. Contact Elite Prosthetic Dentistry today to make an appointment and find out if your severe headaches or migraines could be related to your jaw.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5756792/
  2. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/563786/
  3. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/tmj
  4. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tmd#symptoms