TMJ Migraine Symptoms

TMJ Migraine Symptoms

This article explores the relationship between migraine headaches and TMJ disorder. Migraines and headaches are a common symptom of TMD and can often be managed without the use of prescription drugs or narcotics.  However you should alway consult a medical professional to ensure that you are taking the right course of action for treatment of a condition.

migraine-headacheTMJ Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of a TMJ disorder (temporomandibular joint). Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and the TMJ headache is a type of tension headache. It is often described as a feeling of wearing a hat two sizes too small, with pain in a ring around or focused on just one side the head, or as a migraine headache.

There are a few TMJ-related causes for tension headaches. Constant contraction of muscle fibers within a muscle, create tension, pressure or a tight feeling in the face and head, but constant tight muscle fibers prevent or reduce blood flow to that area. The body sends more blood to the areas and this can result an increase in general blood pressure to the muscles and head, sometimes referred to as vascular headaches. Clenching and grinding the teeth, which are TMJ symptoms, produce pain from the muscles in the head, which is a headache.

Unfortunately, TMJ headaches can be so frequent or severe that they are frequently misdiagnosed and treated as migraine headaches.

The pain from muscle headaches can be blocked with medications, or nerves cut with brain surgery or muscles somewhat relaxed with muscle and psychological therapy, but the cause of the disease and damage from the bad bite, malocclusion, will persist. Side effects with medications, complications from brain surgery, and limited results with muscle or psychological therapy do not correct the source of the problem. Neuromuscular dentistry ensures the muscles are happy because they do not have to work hard positioning the teeth to a strained bite.

By putting the temporomandibular joint back into alignment and placing the jaw into its optimal position, neuromuscular dentistry can provide solutions to most headache problems related to TMJ, muscle, nerve and joint disorders.

What is a migraine headache?

Migraines are a neurological disease characterized by recurrent, moderate to severe headaches often in association with a number of other symptoms. The word is derived from the Greek word “hemikrania” where “hemi” means half and “krania” means skull, thereby signifying pain on one side of the head.

Common causes of migraine headaches:

  • Changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway
  • Imbalances in brain chemicals including serotonin, which helps regulate pain in the nervous system. Serotonin levels drop during migraine attacks which may cause the trigeminal system to release substances called neuropeptides, which travel to the brain’s outer covering (meninges). The result is headache pain
  • Changes in the size of the arteries in and outside of the brain. The blood vessels are thought to become inflamed and swollen. It is believed that migraine pain is caused by this inflammation, as well as by the pressure on the swollen walls of the blood vessels


Symptoms of migraines:

  • Beginning as a dull ache that progresses into a constant, throbbing and pulsating pain at the temples, as well as the front or back of one side of the head. Typically, the headache lasts from 2 to 72 hours
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, smell and sound
  • The pain is generally made worse by physical activity
  • Auras may occur before or during migraine headaches. Auras are nervous system symptoms that are usually visual disturbances such as flashes of light. Sometimes auras can also be touching sensations (sensory) like pins and needles, movement (motor) or speech (verbal) disturbances


What is Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD)?

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is an umbrella term covering pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (the muscles that move the jaw) and the temporomandibular joint.

There is a close relationship between TMD and migraine headaches. Many people who suffer from migraine headaches are unaware that TMD is a  common cause of migraine headaches. The reason that TMD causes migraines and other head pain problems is due to the following:

  • The Trigeminal nerve is very closely associated to the TMJ and is responsible for the jaw and tooth functions. TMD (due to multiple missing teeth, worn down teeth, bad or deep bite, poor dental work or physical functions such as habitual bad posture, jaw injury/accident, etc.) can displace the TMJ from its balanced position.  When the mandible (or lower jaw bone) is not aligned properly with the maxilla (or upper jaw/cheekbone), it often results in a dislocation of the protective disc that sits between those two bones. As the lower jaw works and pushes the lower jawbone farther back in its working socket (fossa), it compresses the nerves and blood vessels. This puts continuous strain on the Trigeminal nerve in the socket which in turn causes stress on the occipital nerves which results in a migraine headache

trigeminal nerve

  • When the TMJ is out of alignment, it causes the muscles in your face, head, and neck that surround the joint to strain. Even while at rest, the muscles are having excess stress put on them because of the misaligned joint. The strained muscles in the head, face, and neck can cause headaches or TMJ migraines. TMJ headaches are often so painful, severe, and frequent that they are misdiagnosed as common migraines
  • TMJ headaches can also be caused by a build-up of blood pressure. When the muscles in your face, head and neck are strained, they prevent blood from flowing to the correct places. When this happens, your body attempts to correct the problem by sending more blood to the area, which increases blood pressure. This can cause a very painful feeling of pressure around the head leading to headaches


Is Your Migraine Caused By TMD Or…?

There is certain classification criteria to diagnose whether a migraine headache is due to TMD including:

  • Recurrent pain in one or more regions of the head and/or face 
  • The headache is accompanied by at least one of the main TMD symptoms such as:
  • Pain is precipitated by jaw movements and/or chewing of hard or tough food
  • Reduced range of, or irregular jaw opening
  • Noise from one or both TMJs during jaw movements
  • Tenderness of the joint capsule(s) of one or both TMJs
  • The headache resolves within 3 months and does not recur after successful treatment for TMD.


What is different in the way that a TMD dentist will treat the TMJ headache from other treatments?

A TMJ dentist will work with you to diagnose the underlying cause of  your headaches or migraines and can determine if a disorder is the cause. If that is the issue, the dentist will design a treatment plan that is specifically suited to you. The TMJ dentist and team will help you learn more about TMD, how to manage the condition and how to reduce the effects on you and your life.

Treatment will involve realigning the bite by measuring the jaw in its most relaxed position and returning the jaw back into its optimal natural position. In most cases, this repositioning can be accomplished without braces or surgery. Treatment of underlying causes of TMD creates a calming of the trigeminal system and in time, it typically resolves many associated pathologies leading to migraine headaches.

So if you are experiencing unexplained migraine headaches due to possible TMD, make an appointment with a TMD dentist to explore the best treatment options for you. By better understanding where your pain is coming from and getting the necessary treatment, you can say goodbye to migraine headaches.

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