Is Your Jaw Giving You Headaches? Signs of a TMJ problem

If you have chronic headaches, it’s no joke. Headaches can get in the way of normal functioning, interfering with joy and making even just the basic motions of your day feel like a chore. At their worst, headaches are debilitating, landing you in bed in a dark room until they pass. But headaches should not be a normal part of your life—so it’s worth looking into the cause. Headaches that can’t be explained neurologically could be caused by your jaw.

What is TMD?

The number one symptom of a jaw problem is headaches. Your headache might be caused by clenching and grinding your teeth at night (which leads to muscle spasms near your temples and the side of your face). Or it might be caused by improper positioning of the lower jaw.

The lower jaw and skull are connected at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). At the TMJ, a cartilage disc cushions the two bones. If the lower jaw is not in the proper position, the disc may be moved out of position, deformed, or severed and is unable to cushion the bones. This could be the cause of your headaches, as well as a number of other symptoms.

Migraine or TMJ?

If you have chronic headaches, you might think they are migraines. When you get a headache, consider where you feel it. Most migraine headaches are experienced differently from TMJ headaches. Migraines are usually felt on one side and include visual disturbances and light sensitivity. TMJ headaches, on the other hand are felt in the temple, behind the eyes, and at the back of the head with pain in the neck and shoulders as well. See a neurologist if you suspect migraines, and a dentist with experience in TMJ disorders if you suspect your jaw is the cause.

More signs of a jaw problem.

If you have headaches, consider if you have other symptoms that could be related to TMD.

Noise when opening and closing your mouth.

When you open and close your mouth, do you hear a clicking, popping, or grating sound? Clicking might be your jaw slipping on and off the disc. (The disc should provide continuous cushion so the bones never touch.) A grating sound could be the bones rubbing together, which might mean the disc has moved totally out of place or is deformed. We’d like to treat TMD in the early stages as it becomes more difficult to relieve symptoms as the disc becomes more deformed or severed a patient’s jaw can lock open or closed, which is extremely painful.

Limited jaw opening.

You should be able to open your jaw enough to fit 3 fingers in vertically. If you are unable to open it further, it could indicate your jaw is not in the correct position.

Ringing in ears, or a stuffy feeling in ears.

If your ears feel congested and it isn’t caused by an ear infection, it could be related to your TMD.

Clenching or grinding your teeth at night.

If your jaw is in the wrong place, you may develop a habit of clenching or grinding your teeth at night (called bruxing). This habit can lead to severe muscle contractions and muscle spasms, causing chronic headaches, especially in the morning.

Facial, neck, ear, shoulder, or lower back pain.

Pain caused by TMD may radiate into the neck, shoulders, face, ears, and even the lower back.

Other TMJ symptoms:

Tired jaws when chewing
Difficulty swallowing
Tingle or numbness in fingers or hands
Dizziness or fainting

Any of these in addition to headaches could point to TMD.

What can fix the problem?

If you visit our office, we can evaluate your TMJ to see if it could be causing the symptoms you are having. If we determine the lower jaw or disc are out of place, we will usually take treatment in two phases:

Phase 1: Stabilize

The first step of treatment is usually to stabilize the jaw. This typically takes 4-6 months, and involves wearing a daytime orthotic (splint) that is meant to move the lower jaw forward so the disc can go to its proper position. If patients grind teeth at night, a nighttime orthotic can help prevent grinding.

Phase 2: Permanent Fix

After the jaw has been stabilized, a patient may consider orthodontic treatment, crowns, or dentures to provide a permanent solution to the problem.

Find out more

Do you suffer from unexplained headaches and suspect a TMJ problem? Make an appointment for TMJ consultation today by calling our London, Ontario office at (519) 455-4110.

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