When you get a headache, you may not think of your jaw as the source, but the TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, could be to blame.
TMJ is the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull. It allows you to talk, laugh, eat, and move your jaw up and down and side to side.
Because of the hinge and sliding motions, this joint is more intricate than other joints in the body and can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, if something is wrong. These are commonly referred to as temporomandibular disorders (TMD).
What causes a TMJ headache?
While it is unknown what causes TMD, it could be as simple as teeth grinding regularly. TMJ pain has been recorded in one out of every ten people, while TMD has been documented in nearly half of the US population.
TMJ headache statistics are lacking since it is difficult to discriminate between general headaches and TMJ headaches.
TMJ muscles run along your jaw and cheekbones, and they can sometimes cause pain – even headaches. When the muscles in your jaw tense up, such as when you grind your teeth, the discomfort can travel to other TMJ muscles along your cheekbones, as well as the sides and top of your head, resulting in a headache.
TMJ headaches can also be caused by TMJ disorders such as osteoarthritis, joint hypermobility, or osteoporosis.
Symptoms of a TMJ headache
There are many distinct types of headaches, but TMJ headaches are often associated with additional symptoms. These are some examples:
- jaw or facial pain
- changes in your bite
- restricted movement of the jaw
- tight facial or jaw muscles
- a “clicking” noise in the jaw
TMJ headaches frequently reoccur in one or more areas of the head and face, and they can feel like tension headaches.
How are TMJ headaches treated?
More research is needed to establish a safe and reliable treatment plan for numerous TMJ diseases, including TMJ headaches. As a result, conservative treatments are frequently recommended. Mostly, headache treatment is relatively simple.
1. Lifestyle changes
Changing simple habits related to your jaw can be beneficial, such as:
- avoiding tough or chewy foods
- lowering stress to avoid coping habits such as jaw clenching
- avoiding jaw motions such as those associated with yawning or gum chewing
Short-term usage of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) helps alleviate jaw pain and headache caused by TMJ. Aspirin (Excedrin), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) are examples of such medications.
Icing your jaw might also aid with pain relief.
Jaw exercises assist in relaxing your muscles and alleviating your pain.
2. Doctor-prescribed treatments
Be sure to make an appointment with your doctor if lifestyle changes and over-the-counter drugs aren’t alleviating your symptoms. They might be able to prescribe more powerful medications.
If noninvasive, conservative treatments aren’t working, consult your doctor about other options. They may wish to prescribe something stronger to relieve the pain or propose a stabilizing splint (bite guard). A stabilizing splint might also be provided by your dentist.
Splints are a frequent TMJ treatment. Although they protect your teeth when you grind them, they haven’t been proven to ease the pain.
These, like the previously stated treatments, are just temporary and reversible. They should not be regarded as long-term remedies.
3. Surgical treatments
Other, more lasting treatments include orthodontics and other dental work to modify your bite permanently.
None of these treatments, however, have been demonstrated to be helpful.
When seeking a permanent treatment for TMJ headache discomfort, proceed with considerable caution. Since there is no board accreditation in TMJ issues in either medicine or dentistry, it can be challenging to locate a doctor who is familiar with and experienced in treating TMJ pain and headache.
Another alternative is to consult a doctor at a pain clinic affiliated with a hospital or university. This could be very useful in determining the source of the TMJ pain.