Headaches are one of the most common health problems in the world. The problem crosses age, race, geographic and economic lines. Jaw pain, while less common, affects a large volume of people is more common with women then men.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50 to 75 percent of all people age 18 to 65 have had at least one headache within the last year. Of those adults, 30 percent report a headache disorder, which means recurrent headaches, such as migraines, cluster headaches and tension headaches.
Many factors and combinations of factors can cause headaches, so the root cause is often hard to identify. However if you suffer from recurrent headaches and from jaw pain, it is possible that the pain could be caused by TMD syndrome affecting your temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Located in front of your ears on either side of your head, the TMJ is a hinge that allows your jaw to move while you are talking or chewing. The joint can move up and down, side to side and back and forth.
Unfortunately, when the TMJ is not working properly, it can cause pain and discomfort in many parts of the body. Some of the symptoms of TMJ disorder are
- Jaw pain
- Ear pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Facial pain
- Neck pain and shoulder pain
- Jaw Popping
- Jaw locking
- Eye pain
One of the most common symptoms of TMJ, however, is a headache. TMJ headaches are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because their symptoms frequently mimic the sinus headache, the tension headache, the migraine headache and, sometimes, the cluster headache.
Here is a brief description of the major types of recurrent headaches that could be caused by TMJ disorder.
Common Types of Headaches
Migraine — Many TMJ patients suffer from migraine-like headaches. Because of the pressure on the joints in the jaw, the muscles are in a constant state of tension. As a result, your facial muscles may tighten and cramp, causing pain and possibly nausea and light sensitivity.
Cluster Headache – Sufferers of cluster headaches often describe them as a sudden severe burst of pain behind one eye. Although they can involve eye pain, TMJ headaches usually are not cluster headaches.
Sinus Headache — These headaches result from pressure in the head, and they feel worse when the head is tilted forward. Symptoms include ear pain and a runny nose. Some TMJ patients report frequent sinus infections.
Tension Headache – People who suffer from tension headaches often report that the pain feels like a tight rubber band around the forehead. The pain can result from tense muscles in the TMJ area and can include the neck and shoulders. Pain may change when eating or yawning.
To learn more about the different types of headaches read our post on TMJ migraine headaches
Signs Headache and Jaw Pain May be Connected to TMJ Syndrome
- Your jaw makes a clicking or popping sound when you open and close it. Joints that are working properly do not make noises. If you hear these noises n your jaw, it is a sign your TMJ is misaligned.
The muscles around your jaw must work to support and try to stabilize the TMJ, which causes overuse, fatigue and then pain. Since those muscles are connected with other muscles in the face, neck and shoulders, the misalignment can cause headache pain.
- You are experiencing jaw pain or facial pain and your bite does not feel right. The TMJ is a complicated joint. Muscles alone control all our other joints, but the TMJ also can be thrown off by the position of our teeth.
If your teeth are not coming together correctly, the TMJ cannot work properly. When your bite is off, you can experience pain in your forehead, the back of your head, your temples or in your neck and shoulders.
- You snore. Snoring is a sign that your breathing during sleep is being disrupted. The position of your lower jaw can be a contributing factor to nighttime breathing problems.
If your lower jaw is positioned a little too far back, your tongue is positioned farther back as well. Then your tongue can vibrate against the soft palate, closing off our airway passages while you sleep.
Once again, the muscles that support the jaw are in an incorrect position that can lead to headache pain.
- Your head is in front of your shoulders. Another sign that TMJ may be causing you headaches is revealed in your posture. In proper posture, your head should be centered over your shoulders.
If you tend to lean your head forward so that your head is in front of your shoulders when you are in an upright position, your neck muscles and vertebrae are under stress and strain.
This “forward head posture” is often related to TMJ problems, and it can be causing your headache pain.
Getting Relief From TMJ Headaches
If you suspect you have TMJ disorder, it is important you visit a neuromuscular dentist. Neuromuscular dentistry focuses on the correction of jaw misalignment.
Neuromuscular dentists who are trained in TMJ disorder know that when the jaw is not working properly, it can cause pain and discomfort elsewhere in the body. A neuromuscular dentist will take a complete health history and perform a variety of tests to get to the underlying cause of your headaches.
Non-invasive treatment methods are effective in the majority of cases and can provide relief from a wide range of symptoms. In the mean time there are a number of things that you can do to prevent tmj flare ups. These include following:
- Follow a routine of tmj excercises such as one such exercise of opening your jaw as wide as possible and then pressing your fist to your chin for a few seconds before slowly closing your jaw.
- Maintain a healthy and low impact soft diet. This can impact your jaw pain and headaches by improving on the level of beneficial nutrient intake as well as reducing the musculoskeletal tension that leads to most cases of TMD.
- Breaking bad habits that increase the severity of TMD symptoms. If you are a nail biter, gum chewer or teeth grinder (bruxism), you are not giving your jaw a chance to heal and could be increasing the strain on your TMJ.
- Since stress can exacerbate headaches caused by TMJ disorder, your dentist also may recommend stress management techniques as treatment. Yoga classes, meditation and hot water baths also may help ease the stress of recurrent headaches.
Methods of TMJ Treatment
If these self-care treatments are not successful, your dentist may move to other options as the next step. These may include:
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
- Computerized mandibular scan (CMS)
- Realigning the bite (occlusion)
- Oral orthotics, bite guards, or TMJ mouth guards
Neuromuscular dentists see TMJ jaw surgery as a last resort to correct your TMJ disorder. To consult a TMJ disorder dentist with training and experience to diagnose and treat your condition, click here to find highly trained and experienced TMJ Dentists.