Distinguishing Between TMJ Headaches and Headaches

How do you know if your headaches are TMJ-related or caused by another factor? Headaches from TMJ are coupled with other symptoms. Pay attention during the day and watch for:

  • Jaw clicking and popping
  • Tight face or jaw muscles
  • Abnormality in your bite
  • Jaw clenching
  • Ear symptoms such as pain, ringing, and congestion
  • Difficulty or pain when chewing.

If you experience headaches and one or many of these other symptoms, your headache might stem from a misalignment in your temporomandibular joint.

Headaches that aren’t from TMJ are usually isolated to your head only, but when you have a TMJ headache, you’ll feel the pain in your jaw and face, and it may even affect your neck and shoulders. Three types of headaches can result from TMJ disorder.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and originate from muscle tension and stress. They feel like a thick band squeezing your head. When your tension headaches are because of TMJ, your jaw muscles are strained from clenching or grinding your teeth in an attempt to realign your jaw. Often, this happens because of stress or out of habit. If you’re in a particularly stressful situation, your TMJ headaches might resolve on their own. But when your jaw is misaligned, the muscles are straining to pull your jaw back into alignment. That strain causes tension and swells the blood vessels in your head. Your nerves notice this and send information to your brain that you’re feeling pain.

Referred Pain Headaches

A referred pain headache is when you feel pain in your head, but that’s not actually where the pain is. These headaches happen because your entire body and nerves are all connected. Typically, you won’t feel pain in your leg because of TMJ, but since the temporomandibular joint connects your jaw to your skull, it’s easy to see why the area near it (your head) would feel pain. Usually, these types of headaches feel like a steady dull ache.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are mysterious because researchers and doctors are still trying to determine how they begin, why they begin, and why some are more likely to get one. The difference between headaches and migraines is that migraines cause sensory and memory problems and are an actual neurological phenomenon, whereas headaches are simply swelling blood vessels. If you have migraines, you know all about ‘migraine triggers.’ These can range from bright lights, loud noises, food, drinks, and smells. We know that migraines can be hereditary, but they can also be secondary. Meaning an underlying disorder like TMJ causes them.

Your trigeminal nerve is the largest of your cranial nerves and is responsible for the feeling in your head and stimulating jaw movements. All messages about chewing, talking, laughing, and feeling in the head need to pass through this nerve which is thought to play a significant role in migraines. Incidentally, it runs right through your jaw joint. Researchers have two theories on why TMJ would cause a migraine, both with the trigeminal nerve. First, this nerve could very simply become inflamed due to muscle strain and inflammation in the joint. Second, this nerve could get jammed with signals and begin to swell, causing a migraine.

If you have a migraine, there won’t be any questions about what it was. You’ll experience sensory abnormalities (called an aura) before you feel any pain. Next, you’ll feel immense head pain, sometimes accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

young woman having a migraine headache

How Does TMJ Treatment Help Headaches and Migraines?

TMJ treatment will help headaches and migraines as long as they’re caused by TMJ. Very simply, treating TMJ will eliminate the root cause of your headaches and migraines. You may still occasionally get them due to other sources, but your chronic pain will cease with TMJ treatment in Des Monies.

Seek TMJ Headache Treatment in Des Moines

We know you’re tired of your constant headaches and migraines. So, choose to seek TMJ treatment with a neuromuscular dentist who focuses specifically on craniofacial pain. Dr. Dougas Pick understands how your jaw affects the rest of your body and has been treating TMJ since 1996. If you’re suffering from chronic headaches and migraines, call Dr. Pick and his skilled team at (515) 222-0505 or make an appointment online. You don’t have to live with his pain.