TMJ Headache – Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
TMJ headache is the abbreviation of a headache caused by Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (also known as Temporomandibular Disorder or TMD). This type of headache is caused when tension in the jaw muscles spreads through the TMJ muscles in the cheeks and then causes pain in the top of the head.
What Is A TMJ Headache?
The causes of a TMJ headache are not always easy to determine, but it could be something as simple as consistent teeth grinding.
TMJ headache is reported in about one in ten people and about 20% – 30% of the adult population in the United States.
The muscles of the Temporomandibular joint run from the jaw to the cheeks and can cause pain and headaches.
If they tense during teeth grinding, the pain can spread to other temporomandibular joint muscles in the cheeks, sides, and upper part of the head, causing headaches.
There are few specific statistics on TMJ, so it is difficult to distinguish between general and TMJ headaches.
A TMJ headache can also be caused by TMJ problems associated with osteoarthritis, joint hypermobility, or osteoporosis.
Joints consist of bones, muscles, and tendons. Freedom from pain depends on how well these parts work together to eliminate inflammation. A problem with any mechanics part can lead to a TMJ headache.
The timing of the headache may be a good indicator of the cause. If teeth grinding is the cause, the headaches can worsen in the middle of the night or early in the morning.
The head position can also play a role. The headaches can increase during the day if they are due to computer use or head posture. Inflammation can also be a culprit, but the timing may depend on the cause of the inflammation.
The muscles connected to the temporomandibular joint are located in different parts of the face, such as the cheeks, jaw, and head. When these muscles are tense, the temporomandibular joint disorder is triggered, causing a painful headache.
The most common TMJ headache is caused by jaw misalignments, uneven bite, hormonal imbalances, and psychological stress. In the coming sections, we will shed some light on how to identify TMJ headaches and conventional TMJ pain treatments.
Can TMJ Cause Headaches
Does TMJ cause headaches? Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome is a condition, so a TMJ headache is more difficult to diagnose than a normal headache. It is often felt as a tension headache, but symptoms vary from person to person.
There are a few other symptoms that can help to determine whether it is a TMJ headache:
- jaw pain (mild or severe in the morning, early afternoon, and night)
- crunching headaches (pain in the eyes, face, shoulders, and neck)
- earache (ringing or popping of the ear)
- blocked jaw (limited mouth movement, inability to open or clench the mouth)
- teeth grinding
- numbness or tingling of the fingers
- changes in how the upper or lower teeth fit together
- pain resulting from tense neck muscles (neck or jaw joints)
TMJ Headache Location
You have two jaw joints, one on each side of the head in front of the ears. These joints connect the jaw to the skull and support the unique jaw movements required to swallow, speak and yawn.
TMJ is a disorder that causes significant pain and dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint and the muscles that control its movement. Problems can be caused by:
- a misaligned jaw
- tooth misalignment
- wear and tear
- cartilage damage
- temporomandibular joint injury
- joint bone injury
- muscle pressure
- gnashing of teeth
- muscle nodules
These problems can lead to inflammation and joint pain, making it difficult for your jawbone to move properly. TMJ pain can range from mild to severe.
TMJ Headache Relief
The NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) recommends that doctors use conservative, non-invasive treatment in most cases of TMJ disease.
These recommendations include over-the-counter painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and stabilizers such as splints and bite guards.
Therapy at home can help alleviate the symptoms. People can use the following strategies at home:
- eat soft food
- avoid chewing gum and biting fingernails
- do jaw strengthening and stretching exercises
- practice relaxation techniques
- use heat packs
Muscle relaxants may be an option in severe cases. Surgical procedures for temporomandibular joint diseases range from minimally invasive techniques to cleaning and adjusting joints in the jaw to complete operations on the open joint and joint replacement.
However, surgery is not a good solution to temporomandibular joint problems as it can cause permanent damage. Some doctors see surgery as a last resort and reserve it for people with severe TMJ disease.
Other possible complications include joint replacements that break down or do not function properly.
Anyone with temporomandibular joint complaints, especially frequent headaches, should talk to a doctor. It is important to talk to a doctor if symptoms persist after treatment.
A doctor can determine whether a temporomandibular joint disorder is responsible for headaches or other pains in the jaw. He or she may recommend additional therapies to manage the pain.