woman with glasses closes her eyes and rubs her forehead during a tension headache

Behind dental cavities, migraines are the third most common illness in the world, affecting about 14 percent of the population. Migraines can start as a throbbing sensation, then develop into nausea, vomiting (throwing up), extreme sensitivity to light, vision loss, and severe pain in one side of the head that can last from a few hours to a few days. People in Anchorage who suffer from frequent migraines know how debilitating they can be, as well as how difficult they are to prevent and treat.

However, understanding the connection between migraines and another chronic pain condition, temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD), could help people in Anchorage to get relief from both conditions.

Worsening Migraines Predict a TMJ Diagnosis

We don’t exactly understand the relationship between these two conditions. One study shows that when people who weren’t diagnosed with TMJ start getting more common headaches, they are more likely to be diagnosed with TMJ.

In this study, researchers interpreted their findings to mean that migraines could contribute to the development of TMJ. However, other research shows it might be more likely that TMJ causes migraines or that the two conditions have a complex interrelationship.

For example, one study found that 100% of people with chronic migraines had TMJ, compared to just 54% of those without migraines.

The truth is that there are several ways that TMJ could trigger migraines.

Pinched Nerves

One thing we do know about migraines is that they generally trigger from the trigeminal nerve. Some types of migraines trigger when branches of the trigeminal get pressure from jaw muscles. When these jaw muscles are overactive or unbalanced because of TMJ, they can put pressure on the branches of the trigeminal nerve, triggering a migraine.

Two common compression points that trigger migraines are located very close to the temporomandibular joint in locations where jaw muscles can easily put pressure on them. Pressure on these points can cause the trigeminal nerve to release calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which triggers migraines.

Overwhelmed Nerves

Another possible way for TMJ to trigger migraines is by overwhelming the trigeminal nerve. In addition to other functions, the trigeminal nerve controls the jaw muscles and carries pain signals back from these muscles. An imbalance in the jaw causes the jaw muscles to both work extremely hard and suffer high levels of pain. This can lead to an overwhelming number of signals in the nerve. The nerve overload then leads to a cascade that again sets off the release of CGRP.

CGRP is considered a potent migraine trigger, and recently several medications have been developed to block it, thus preventing or stopping migraines. However, for some people, TMJ treatment in Anchorage gives a drug-free alternative to get rid of migraines and nausea and/or vomiting that can come with them.


Another potential link between TMJ and migraines is the theory of sensitization. In the sensitization theory, the brain receives enough pain signals that it begins interpreting normal nerve signals as pain signals.

This theory has been proposed to explain why so many people with TMJ also experience other chronic pain conditions. In fact, about three-quarters of people with TMJ also have what is called chronic overlapping pain conditions (COPC), which include:

  • Migraines
  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Vulvodynia
  • Endometriosis
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Interstitial cystitis

Although migraines are the most common COPC with TMJ, most of these affect more than 10% of people with TMJ. Many people experience more than two of these conditions.

TMJ and Nausea

Other times, a person might TMJ experience symptoms that seem like a migraine even if they aren’t experiencing a true migraine. For example, many people with TMJ develop ear-related symptoms. This includes vertigo and dizziness. The dizzying symptoms can trigger nausea and/or vomiting in many people. Combined with a tension headache, the condition can easily be confused with a migraine.

Anchorage migraine patients who aren’t getting good relief from their current migraine treatments should see a TMJ dentist to learn whether they might have TMJ instead of or in addition to migraines. Treating TMJ can then reduce the frequency and/or severity of migraines and related symptoms.

TMJ Treatment in Anchorage

These multiple links explain why TMJ treatment may reduce the frequency and severity of various types of headaches, including migraines and tension headaches. Treating TMJ can also help fight against jaw pain, neck pain, and other related symptoms.

TMJ treatments in Anchorage, such as corrective mouth guards and TENS treatment, can often provide needed relief to patients seeking drug-free treatment options.

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.