tmj headache

TMJ Headache

TMJ headache is not uncommon in today’s world. You might not believe that your jaw is the reason for a headache. However, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) could be the culprit.

Your jaw connects to your skull via the TMJ. It allows you to talk, laugh, chew, and allows your jaw to move side-to-side and up/down.

This joint is more complex than most other joints due to its sliding and hinge motions. If there is any abnormality of this joint, it can cause many symptoms, headache can be one of those symptoms. These are commonly called Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD).

What causes TMJ headache?

Although it is not clear what causes TMD, consistent teeth-grinding could be the cause. TMJ pain has been reported in 1/10 people. TMD has also been reported in nearly half the US population.

TMJ headaches are not well-studied because it is difficult to differentiate between general headache and TMJ headache.

TMJ muscles run along the jaw and cheek. Sometimes, these muscles can cause pain and even headaches. A headache can occur due to the tension of your jaw muscles, for example, when you grind the teeth. This pain then spread to other other surrounding muscles such as muscles of the side and top of the head, cheek muscles, etc causing headache.

TMJ problems related to osteoarthritis or hypermobility of joint, osteoporosis, etc. could also cause TMJ headache.

What symptoms are associated with a TMJ headache?

Although there are many types of headaches, TMJ headaches tend to be associated with other symptoms. These symptoms can include:

  • Muscles in the jaw or facial area should be tight
  • Jaw or facial pain
  • A clicking sound in the jaw
  • Restricted movement of the jaw
  • Changes in your bite, that is, how your top and bottom teeth fit together.

TMJ headache can also recur in certain areas of the head or face, or feel like a tension headache.

How can TMJ headache be treated?

More research is needed for many TMJ disorders, including TMJ headache to conclude safe and reliable treatment. Conservative treatments are recommended because they are more effective than the alternative treatment.

You can perform many of these conservative treatments yourself with the help of your doctor and these treatments are easy to follow.

It is important to note that when there is common symptoms of TMJ headache, then also it is vital to check for other headache disorders. One also needs to be aware about the warning signs and symptoms of headache.

So, proper medical history, how long the headache is present, associated symptoms with the headache, relieving factors, time of the headache, etc. need to be considered thoroughly.

Lifestyle changes for TMJ headache

It can be beneficial to change small habits associated with your jaw.

  • Avoid hard or chewy foods
  • Reduce stress to avoid coping behaviors such as jaw clenching and jaw grinding
  • Avoid jaw movements such as wide yawning and gum chewing.
  • It can also be helpful to ice your jaw to relieve pain.
  • Jaw exercises can relax your muscles and ease your symptoms.

TMJ pain can be managed by short-term nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). These include aspirin, Ibuprofen, or naproxen.

Prescribed by a doctor for TMJ headache

Your doctor should be consulted if lifestyle changes or over-the-counter medications aren’t working. The doctor may prescribe stronger medication.

Talk to your doctor if non-invasive or conservative treatments are not effective. Your doctor may recommend something stronger to relieve the pain or may suggest a bite guard (stabilization splint). A stabilization splint can be prescribed by your dentist.

TMJ disorders is treated with splints. They can protect your teeth from grinding, but they aren’t proven to alleviate pain. Also, permanent changes of the teeth structure or permanent change of the bite (such as how your upper and lower teeth fit together) is not a recommended treatment option.

These treatments, like the ones mentioned before, are temporary and reversible. These should not be considered as permanent solutions.

Surgical treatments for TMJ headache

Other, more permanent options include orthodontic work that permanently changes your bite or other dental work.

None of these treatments has been shown to be effective.

Before considering permanent treatment for TMJ headache pain, be careful. TMJ headache pain is a serious condition that requires extreme caution.

It is difficult to find a TMJ disorder specialist in medicine or dentistry.   Talking to a doctor at a university or hospital’s pain clinic might also be an option. This could be particularly helpful in diagnosing the source of TMJ pain.

What are the chances of a TMJ headache in the future?

TMJ headache can be painful but can be treated with a variety of treatments. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you might have TMJ headache.

Treatments that target the root cause of your headaches can reduce pain and help you take preventative measures to avoid future ones.


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  2. Year Book of Psychiatry and Applied Mental Health 2012
  3. Textbook of Psychiatry E-Book, Elsevier

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