Headache or TMJ? Ask Your Dentist

It’s estimated that as many as 10 million Americans are living with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and only about half of them seek treatment for the condition.

TMJ is a misalignment of the jaw that interferes with the way the jaw works, and headaches are a common symptom that something’s amiss. Get the facts on TMJ and discover the signs that suggest TMJ is causing your headaches.

Understanding the temporomandibular joint

The temporomandibular joint connects your lower jaw to your skull. Without it, your jaw wouldn’t function. When this joint becomes displaced, jaw mechanics are compromised, triggering symptoms like headaches.

You have two temporomandibular joints, one on each side. They allow your jaw to open and close so that you can talk, chew, and eat. When this joint is working properly, a circular component slides along the socket with a small cushioning disc in between so that your mouth opens and closes smoothly.

When the temporomandibular joint is dysfunctional, the connective components get displaced, causing characteristic symptoms.

TMJ headaches are frequently mistaken for tension headaches

Many people who suffer from recurrent tension headaches may have TMJ disorder. After carefully examining the temporomandibular joint of adults diagnosed with tension headaches, one study found that TMJ may have been responsible for as many as 82% of participant’s headache problems.

When men and women visit their primary care provider with complaints of headaches, the function of the jaw as a cause is rarely explored, making it crucial to see a dentist to rule out problems with the temporomandibular joint.

Your headaches tend to occur after jaw activity

When your headache occurs is an important clue to your dentist that TMJ is causing your headaches. TMJ-related headaches tend to occur after intense jaw activity. This can include eating hard foods like nuts or even talking for long periods of time.

Anything that requires a lot of jaw activity may trigger a TMJ headache. Telling your dentist when you experience headaches will help determine the cause.

You have signs of temporomandibular joint problems

Men and women with TMJ almost always have signs of problems with their temporomandibular joint. This commonly includes jaw pain, clicking noises when opening or closing the jaw, and restricted jaw movement.

When you attempt to open your jaw wide, you may find that you can only open it so far. Or, that you can open it to a certain degree before hearing a clicking noise and then you’re able to open it farther.

This happens when the cushioning discs of the temporomandibular joint are out of place. It can move around or get stuck, causing the resulting clicking noises and restricted movement.

You have other TMJ-related symptoms

TMJ symptoms don’t stop at headaches and jaw pain. TMJ can cause a range of problems that you might not immediately suspect are connected, including:

Tell your dentist about all your symptoms, even ones that seem non-specific and unrelated.

You don’t experience symptoms related to regular headaches

Migraines and severe headaches commonly cause symptoms that TMJ does not, including:

The absence of these symptoms is a clue that TMJ may be causing your headaches.

If you’re experiencing TMJ-related headaches, Dr. Lawrence Wang and his team at Madison Square Dentistry can help. Visit the New York, New York office by calling and speaking with our friendly staff or booking your appointment online today.

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