How TMJ Can Trigger a Headache
TMJ is commonly associated with the diagnosis of four different types of headaches, including.
- Tension headaches
- Sinus headaches
Tension headaches typically feel like a tight band of pain around the head. This is the most common type of headache, accounting for 80% or more of headaches. They occur because of the way that the muscles in the jaw partner with those in the head. Jaw muscles are some of the strongest in the head and neck, and when they experience dysfunction that causes them to work themselves sore, they can pass that soreness on to other muscles that they work with. This includes muscles in the head and neck, leading to both headache and neck pain.
Migraines are a bit mysterious, as is their connection to TMJ. However, we do know that there is a correlation between TMJ and migraines. This correlation is likely a causal link because of the association of the trigeminal nerve with migraines. Migraines can be triggered by excessive activity in the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve carries messages to and from the jaw muscles, so it’s possible that excessive activity of the jaw muscles could trigger overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve, leading to a migraine.
There’s also another proven connection between jaw muscles and migraines. Some branches of the trigeminal nerve weave under and around the jaw muscles. Excess muscle activity can put pressure on these nerve branches, leading to migraines. Surgical trimming of these muscles or the use of BOTOX ® injections to relax the muscle can reduce or eliminate the migraines. So TMJ treatment that relaxes jaw muscles can likely reduce migraines.
A true sinus headache is caused by inflammation, swelling, and blockage of the sinus, air chambers in the skull that are found around the eyes and nose. However, most sinus headaches are misdiagnosed and are actually migraines or tension headaches. They may even be toothaches. Sometimes, chronic sinus infections are linked to tooth infections.
Is TMJ Causing Your Headaches?
Because they can be related to many conditions, it can be hard to determine whether your headaches are related to TMJ. Ask these four questions to figure out if TMJ might be to blame for your headaches:
- Am I responding to headache treatment as I should? If you’ve been diagnosed with a headache and are receiving treatment for that type but aren’t responding, the odds are good that your headache is being caused by something else, possibly TMJ.
- Do I have other TMJ symptoms? Typically, TMJ symptoms come together, so if you have headaches, you may have other symptoms, such as:
- Jaw pain
- Jaw popping or clicking
- Restricted jaw motion or locked jaw
- Ear symptoms like ringing in the ears, ear pain, or vertigo
- Neck pain
- Face pain
- Do my headaches flare up after jaw activity? If they tend to come after chewing gum, eating a large meal, opening your jaw wide with a yawn, talking for long periods, or other kinds of jaw activity, then it’s likely TMJ plays a role.
- Have I considered other common causes? Make sure that you’ve considered other common causes like dehydration, alcohol consumption, food allergies, and overexertion. Note that in some cases overexertion and stress can also be triggers for TMJ.
If you think TMJ might be causing your headaches, neuromuscular dentist Dr. Kendall will perform a comprehensive exam of your jaw and determine whether you have characteristics of TMJ, including tense muscles, displaced discs in the temporomandibular joint, or other potential elements of the disorder.