Headaches & Migraines
Many can not believe that your jaw could be the reason for your headaches, however, it can. The TMJ, or temporomandibular joint, is a connective hinge from your jaw to your skill. This hinge allows us to do so many things including talking, laughing, chewing, the movement of our jaw up and down and side to side. This connection, if misaligned can cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches.
What causes TMJ headaches?
The problem with many patients and doctors is that they assume a person suffering from chronic headaches is suffering from tension or sinus headaches. They don’t consider the possibility that TMJ problems are behind the headaches, so they go misdiagnosed and the headaches continue to return.
The temporomandibular joint combines a hinge action with sliding motions. The bones that work together are covered with cartilage and are separated by a small shock-absorbing disk. This keeps the movement of our jaws fluid and smooth.
TMJ headaches are a part of the disorder and are simply a byproduct of different factors creating stress and pain in the joint:
- Congenital alignment problems
- Jaw alignment problems
- Jaw injury
- Teeth clenching
- Teeth grinding
- Worn-down teeth creating bite issues
Symptoms of TMJ Headaches
It’s important to track your symptoms and note the differences between a tension headache and a headache brought on by TMJ. TMJ headaches will usually have other accompanying symptoms:
- A cracking or grinding sound when you move your jaw
- Facial tenderness and pain
- Stiffness in the joint, making it difficult to open and close your mouth
Headaches originating from TMJ won’t have the same symptoms that severe headaches and migraines can have which include nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and fatigue. But a TMJ headache can trigger a migraine if the patient is susceptible to developing them.
How Are TMJ Headaches Treated?
Treating the symptoms of a tension headache won’t help with TMJ headaches. It can mask the pain, but the underlying causes will still be there and headaches will continue. At NW Heights Dental, we treat the TMJ.
A variety of approaches are used to treat TMJ. These can run from relaxation exercises at home to anti-inflammatory medications, from traditional dental work to creating a splint for nighttime use. At NW Heights Dental, we’ve had good luck using night guards to keep patients from grinding their teeth. But sometimes, it’s a process of trial and error; we’ll try a certain approach and if it doesn’t have the desired effect, we’ll move to the next option.
These are some of the methods we use to help our patients overcome TMJ and its corresponding headaches:
- Cosmetic dentistry — To correct alignment, we can replace missing teeth with dental implants or bridges, crown overly worn teeth, or move the teeth with orthodontics. This can involve widening constricted arches.
- Splints or night guards — Night grinding and clenching is often a main factor in TMJ. To combat this, it’s important to put the jaw in the correct position at night. To do this, we fabricate plastic mouthpieces that fit over the upper and lower teeth. Patients usually wear them at night.
- Exercises — Tightening the jaw muscles and clenching the teeth is a common cause of TMJ problems. We have various jaw exercises that stimulate and relax the jaw muscles.
- Medication — Muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory medication can be effective.
- Lifestyle changes — Stress and anxiety are often root causes; stress reduction techniques are important.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) — A small wand delivers small electrical pulses to the jaw muscles. These pulses stimulate the nerves, encouraging the muscles to relax and the jaw to fall into alignment.
- Botox injections — While Botox is known for its ability to erase wrinkles on the upper third of the face, it can also be used for TMJ patients. It is very effective for relaxing the overused muscles that lead to TMJ pain. We don’t provide Botox injections at NW Heights Dental, but we can get you to another provider if we think this is the right solution for your TMJ headaches.