One of the most common TMJ symptoms is headaches. These can be of many different types, but they tend to recur along with other symptoms, such as jaw pain, face pain, and ringing in the ears. TMJ-related headaches can be felt anywhere from the forehead to the back of the head.
TMJ and Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches and the most common in TMJ headaches. In tension headaches, your pain is in the muscles in your head. These will feel tense and tight. The pain may be constant and throbbing. It will often involve many muscles, from the top of your head, through your jaw, and may also involve your neck and upper back.
TMJ can cause tension headaches because the muscles in your jaw partner with muscles in your head, neck, and face. When imbalance in your jaw creates strain in jaw muscles, they pass that strain on to the muscles they work with, which leads to tension headaches, neck pain, and more.
Tension headaches respond well to conventional, non-prescription treatments. Heat therapy is a great drug-free treatment for tension headaches. Over-the-counter pain medications may also help with tension headaches.
TMJ treatment can prevent these types of headaches and reduce their severity by reducing the amount of muscle tension in your jaw.
TMJ and Migraine Headaches
It was once thought that TMJ held the secret to migraines, and that TMJ would allow us to prevent and eliminate migraines altogether. However, despite some success in using TMJ treatment to prevent and reduce the severity of migraines, we’ve learned that TMJ isn’t the magic key to migraines we once thought.
Understanding the connection between TMJ and migraines is hampered by the fact that we don’t really understand migraines as well as we would like. However, there are many possible links between TMJ and migraines. One is simply that pain in the head and face can serve as a migraine trigger. The pain from the temporomandibular joint and muscles of mastication (chewing muscles)—both of which can be hurt by TMJ—travels to the trigeminal nucleus caudalis, a brain structure that is involved in the early stages of migraines. Other possible causes are direct irritation of the trigeminal nerve by pressure from the imbalanced jaw joint and potential interference with the brain’s blood supply.
Referred Pain Headaches
TMJ can also lead to what are known as referred pain headaches. In this type of pain, your body is registering pain in one part of your body as coming from another part. This is actually a very common phenomenon in the body and is the reason why, for example, a heart attack may be felt as jaw pain, especially in women. It was also long thought to be the reason behind ice cream headaches—your brain was misinterpreting pain from your mouth as head pain.
TMJ can cause many different pains in the teeth and jaw, leading to many opportunities for your brain to mistakenly interpret them as headaches. Reducing the tension in your jaw joint can lead to a reduction in this type of headache.