Is Your Headache Linked to TMJ?

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD) are an overlooked cause of headaches. Many people and their doctors don’t think that the jaw could be causing headaches. However, it’s actually very common. They might be linked to TMJ if:

  • Conventional headache treatment provides little relief
  • Headaches flare up after jaw activity
  • You clench and grind your teeth
  • You have other TMJ symptoms

Conventional headache treatments are often focused on relieving the symptom, and therefore they don’t stop them from reoccuring. TMJ treatment focuses on relieving the cause of your headaches, which can reduce their frequency and severity or eliminate them entirely.

If you have TMJ, jaw activity can serve as the trigger for your headaches. If you eat a hard-to-chew meal, spend a day talking, or chew gum along with jaw clenching and grinding (bruxism) could be causing your headaches. Since many people don’t know they’re sleep bruxers, they overlook the TMJ link.

Finally, it’s important to consider whether you have other TMJ symptoms, such as tooth wear, jaw pain, ringing in the ears, and more.

Types of Headaches Linked to TMJ

Three headache types are strongly linked to TMJ:

  • Migraines
  • Tension headaches
  • Referred pain headaches

If you have any of these types of pain, it could be linked to TMJ. Here’s how.

Migraines and TMJ

Recent studies suggest that the type of headache most commonly linked to TMJ is the migraine. We don’t fully understand how migraines work, but one of the key trigger points for migraine is the trigeminal nerve, which is the nerve that carries signals to and from the jaw muscles. One theory is that excess tension and pain in the jaw muscles can overload the trigeminal nerve, causing it to release the calcitonin gene receptor protein (CGRP), which sets off migraines.

In addition, some branches of the trigeminal nerve weave under or even through jaw muscles, so if these muscles are tense, they can put pressure on those branches, triggering migraines.

Tension Headaches and TMJ

Tension headaches are caused by excess tension in the muscles of your skull. Some of the affected muscles could be jaw muscles, since some of these attach at your temples. But the cause could also be other muscles in your head and neck that partner with jaw muscles and receive tension passed on by tense jaw muscles.

Referred Pain

This type of headache is caused when your pain isn’t actually a headache, but your brain interprets it that way. Your brain doesn’t have caller ID when it gets a pain signal from your body. It has to guess where that pain signal is coming from, and it isn’t always accurate, so sometimes jaw, face, or tooth pain gets interpreted as headaches.

Sleep Apnea Headaches

Sleep apnea is also a common cause of headaches. Sleep apnea disrupts your sleep by forcing you to wake at least partially hundreds of times a night, even though you might not know it. This disrupts your sleep and makes you susceptible to headaches, especially migraines. You might also be clenching  your jaw as you sleep to try and keep your airway open and prevent apnea attacks. If you are looking for headache relief, we might recommend you get evaluated for sleep apnea.

Relief in St. Augustine

If you are suffering from headaches in or near St. Augustine, and your doctor can’t help, we might be able to. Please call (904) 826-4343 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Kinsey at Palencia Dental.