If you’re experiencing frequent headaches, it’s essential to find the cause. In many cases, the pain in your head may be coming from your temporomandibular joint (also known as TMJ) instead. So, how can you find out? Plus, what kinds of symptoms should you be looking for?
Here’s what you need to know about how TMJ causes headaches, and what kinds of treatments may help you reduce or eliminate headache pain.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint is the jaw joint, which allows you to open and close your mouth. You need it to talk, eat, drink, laugh, and sing. But sometimes, it doesn’t align quite right, or there’s too much pressure on it. That can lead to TMJ, which is an interchangeable term for TMD (temporomandibular disorders). Often, pain is one of the problems you encounter that indicates issues with this joint.
How Does TMJ Differ From Headaches?
TMJ causes pain in the jaw, but it can also lead to pain in the neck and head. Many people with TMJ experience headaches, but they might not realize the connection between the two issues. A headache typically involves pain in the sides or front of the head but can also include pain in the back of the head and neck. Since TMJ causes headaches, someone with this condition can experience pain in these areas that come from their temporomandibular joint, as opposed to coming from other headache sources.
What are Common TMJ Disorder Symptoms?
Some of the most common symptoms of TMJ include clicking or popping noises in the jaw when chewing or yawning, facial pain, and changes in your bite. You may also experience dizziness, earaches, numbness in your fingers, or pain in your eyes, face, shoulder, or back. If you notice any of these issues, especially if you experience them frequently, you may have TMJ.
Risk Factors of TMJ
Clenching or grinding your teeth (bruxism) is a common behavior that can lead to TMJ. Most people who clench their jaw or grind their teeth don’t notice that they’re doing it, especially if it happens while they’re asleep. Other risk factors for TMJ include having an overbite, arthritis, nutritional deficiencies, structural changes such as missing teeth, and emotional issues such as stress or anxiety.
Popular TMJ Relief and Treatments
There are several available treatments for TMJ. These involve prescription, surgical, and at-home treatments that require lifestyle changes. Needing more than one type of treatment is also possible. Generally, your dentist considers the severity of your TMJ and its causes when making treatment suggestions.
Some of the most commonly prescribed treatments for TMJ relief include dental appliances such as clear aligners or a mouth guard. These protect your teeth when you have TMJ and gently realign your jaw to reduce pain and discomfort. Often, they’re used in conjunction with lifestyle changes.
In severe cases of TMJ, surgical realignment of the jaw may be necessary. This is generally only suggested when the issue is significant enough to make talking, eating, and other daily activities difficult. People with a severe overbite or underbite sometimes need surgical correction to their temporomandibular joint.
Conversely, there are at-home treatments that relax your jaw and also reduce TMJ headaches. These treatments include massage and stretching, which help reduce jaw clenching and keep the muscles around the temporomandibular joint looser and less tense. You can also work to identify the behaviors or movements that contribute when TMJ causes headaches. Avoiding those movements and behaviors reduces pain and discomfort.
Help is Available for TMJ Headache Pain
If you’re not experiencing any symptoms besides headaches then there may be another cause for your discomfort. However, if your headaches are caused by TMJ, it is something you and your dentist can manage together. Getting to the root of the problem will help you manage it and reduce your pain.
If you experience headaches and want to know if TMJ is the cause, schedule an appointment with us today at Physician Partners of America. We are here to help.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common treatment for TMJ?
The most common treatment for TMJ is lifestyle changes that can reduce discomfort. These are usually the first line of defense unless there is a very severe case. If lifestyle changes don’t work for TMJ, then mouthguards, clear aligners, and other treatments may be necessary.
Is TMJ a medical or dental problem?
TMJ is both a medical and a dental problem. Clenching and grinding your teeth, for example, can lead to many dental health issues that require treatment. But these kinds of behaviors also contribute to TMJ and the problems it causes with headaches and other pain. Because this is a two-fold issue, getting to the bottom of it can prevent various issues. For example, tooth damage, headaches, shoulder, back, and neck pain, dizziness, and other symptoms.
What will a pain specialist do for TMJ?
A pain specialist will first do a thorough evaluation of your bite and may take x-rays to see how your temporomandibular joint moves. If there are issues found, then the severity of your condition will be what the specialist uses to decide on a treatment plan. Common treatment options to alleviate pain include the use of Botox and trigger point injections. Each cause of TMJ is very individual, but most are not severe and very treatable with lifestyle changes and oral appliances.
How do you know if you have TMJ headaches?
Even though TMJ causes headaches, that doesn’t necessarily mean the cause of your headaches is your jaw joint. The best way to determine whether your headaches are coming from TMJ is to consider any other symptoms you’re experiencing. If you have a clicking or popping in your jaw, earaches, dizziness, neck pain, and eye pain, that’s a pretty good indication that TMJ could be the issue.
What is the connection between TMJ and head or neck pain?
According to one study1, experts determined that as much as 70% of head and neck pain issues may be related to TMJ. Seeking help for this misalignment of the jaw joint can reduce discomfort and alleviate pain for many patients. Physician Partners of America provides trigger point injections and other services to reduce pain and address TMJ, which treats the problem at its source.
- A. Silveira, I. C. Gadotti, S. Armijo-Olivo, D. A. Biasotto-Gonzalez, D. Magee, “Jaw Dysfunction Is Associated with Neck Disability and Muscle Tenderness in Subjects with and without Chronic Temporomandibular Disorders”, BioMed Research International, vol. 2015, Article ID 512792, 7 pages, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/512792
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