Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) is a condition that may start in your jaw, but it causes symptoms throughout your body. One of the most common symptoms is headache. Of course, headaches are very nonspecific, so how do you know when your headaches might be a symptom of TMJ?

One sign, according to a recent study, is that your headaches keep getting worse. A recent analysis of data from the OPPERA study, one of the most comprehensive on the development of TMJ, shows that worsening headaches predict a diagnosis of TMJ.


OPPERA (Orofacial Pain: Prospective Evaluation and Risk Assessment) is one of the largest studies ever done on TMJ. Over 3000 patients who didn’t have TMJ were followed for three years to see how many people developed TMJ and determine what risk factors led to the condition. Although the study was completed several years ago, researchers continue to analyze the data to find new connections, such as this link between headaches and TMJ risk.

Headaches are a symptom of TMJ

Headaches and TMJ Risk

The study showed that people with migraine at the beginning of the study were 67% more likely to develop TMJ, while those with mixed headache (migraine and tension headaches) were 411% more likely to develop TMJ. People with higher frequency headaches were about twice as likely to develop TMJ.

And once people developed TMJ, their headaches tended to increase in frequency. This effect was most pronounced for migraines. TMJ patients had a 280% chance that their migraines would worsen, compared to people without TMJ.

A Reciprocal Relationship

For this study, researchers concluded that successful migraine treatment could potentially reduce the risk that people would develop TMJ. In other words, they lean toward the theory that migraine could cause TMJ. However, it’s just as likely that the TMJ is a driving force behind migraine development.

People reported headaches but not TMJ at the beginning of the study. But many people with TMJ go undiagnosed for years or receive a misdiagnosis of headache, especially migraine. TMJ could be the root cause of headaches, and they didn’t know it until they were diagnosed as part of this study.

And it’s clear that people with TMJ are much more likely see a worsening of their migraines than people without TMJ. This makes it likely that TMJ plays an important role as a migraine trigger, leading to a worsening of the condition.

If migraine does contribute to the development of TMJ, TMJ also contributes to the development of migraine, and it’s likely that TMJ treatment can help stop the progression of migraine, and may actually lead to remission.

If you are struggling with migraine and your current treatment isn’t working, TMJ treatment may be able to help.

For TMJ treatment in Anchorage, please call (907) 349-0022 today for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Excellence in Dentistry.