Your Headache May Be the Result of TMJ

When you’re frequented by headaches, it becomes more than frustrating; it can be life-altering. At Meadowbrook Dental Care in Mineola, New York, we understand the debilitating impact of headaches and want to help you feel better.

If you can’t find relief from traditional treatments, your headaches may result from an issue with your TMJ, also known as your temporomandibular joint. To stop these headaches from occurring, you often need a different kind of care focused on your jaw instead of your head.

Your temporomandibular joint

The temporomandibular joint connects your lower jaw to the rest of your skull and functions similar a sliding hinge, moving the jaw both up and down, as well as side to side. This joint allows you to eat, talk, chew, and yawn ⸺ without it, your jaw wouldn’t move.

Within this joint, inflammation can occur, leading to pain and discomfort. You may also experience issues with the muscles around the joint that can cause aching or tenderness. Any problems that occur around or within your TMJ are often referred to as a temporomandibular disorder (TMD) or myofascial pain dysfunction (MPD) syndrome.

Although the root causes of TMJ issues are unknown, certain risk factors may make you more likely to experience these jaw problems. If you have had a jaw injury or have arthritis in other joints, you may develop a TMD. Those who grind or clench their teeth regularly, including during sleep, also have a greater risk for TMJ pain.

Headaches and TMJ

Problems with your TMJ lead to a range of symptoms, most notably pain when you chew or talk. You may also notice a clicking, popping, or grating sensation when you open your jaw. In some cases, you may experience a dull ache where your skull meets the joint or feel as though your face is tired.

If you have any of these symptoms, your headaches may also result from a TMJ issue, especially if you have pain that radiates to the back or side of your head and down your back. Many TMJ-related headaches manifest like a tension headache or migraine. They’re often accompanied by vertigo, dizziness, or ringing in your ears.

Reducing TMJ headaches

When you believe TMJ may cause your headaches, we have some ideas that may reduce inflammation in your joint and muscles and, therefore, decrease the frequency and severity of your headaches.

Rest your jaw and TMJ as much as possible. Stick to soft foods that don’t require much chewing and don’t chew gum. If you must talk on the phone, avoid bracing the phone between your shoulder and jaw, instead opting to hold it or use the speakerphone option.

Along with resting the joint, consider applying moist heat or cold packs for 10-15 minutes a few times a day. This can soothe the joint and aching muscles, reducing your pain and improving joint function.

When to see the doctor

If you don’t notice an improvement in your jaw pain and headaches after a week of rest, schedule an appointment at Meadowbrook Dental Care. We can examine your jaw and determine if you have a TMD or if an issue with your TMJ is causing your pain.

When your headaches do result from TMJ, we often recommend a bite plate. These removable dental appliances act like mouthguards, separating your teeth to reduce clenching and teeth grinding, both of which aggravate your TMJ and lead to more severe symptoms.

We may also give you exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles that support your temporomandibular joint. Some patients may even require physical therapy to reduce their jaw pain and TMJ headaches.

For severe cases that don’t respond to less invasive measures, we may suggest a more aggressive approach, such as surgery. Although these cases are rare, we discuss all your options and expected treatment outcomes.

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