If you have frequent migraines, you might be surprised to learn that your jaw could be to blame.
the Temporomandibular joint Joint (TMJ) connects your head and the side of your jaw. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) – also called TMJ disorders – refer to a collection of disorders that cause symptoms such as pain and cracking in the joint and surrounding areas.
Temporomandibular joint disorders can sometimes cause or worsen migraines (recurring headaches that cause throbbing or throbbing pain). Muscle tension can be a trigger for migraine pain.
This article describes how TMJ leads to headaches. It also explains how to relieve temporomandibular joint and jaw pain at home and with the help of a specialist.
How TMJ Causes Headaches
The temporomandibular joint enables chewing and speaking. You can feel your jaw joints (one on each side of your head) when you put your hands behind your ears and open your mouth.
People with TMJ disorders have a range of symptoms that affect the muscles, jaw, and nerves. This can include:
- Pain, tenderness and inflammation in the face, jaw and neck
- Restricted movement in the jaw and neck (“jaw rigidity”)
- Clicking or popping in the jaw
- A discrepancy between the upper and lower teeth when closing the jaw
- Stiff jaw muscles
- shoulder pain
- ringing in the ears
- Teeth grinding or gnashing of teeth
These symptoms can appear on both sides of the face and neck, or just one side. They can make it difficult to speak or eat.
The exact cause of TMJ disorders is unknown, but some possible causes can include:
- Hormonal imbalances or changes
- injury to the jaw
- Bad attitude
- Increased sensitivity to pain
Many of the triggers of migraine headaches, such as stress and hormonal changes, can also trigger TMJ symptoms. TMJ symptoms can occur at the same time as tension headaches (a common type of headache often associated with muscle tension) or migraines. Sometimes one can trigger the other or make the pain worse.
place of pain
The temporomandibular joint connects your neck to your head. When you tighten your chewing muscles or jaw, the pain often starts in that area and spreads to your cheeks. The pain and tension can eventually spread to the crown of the head and cause TMJ headaches.
Many people describe TMJ headaches as a sharp, traveling pain. It can get worse when you try to chew or talk. It can also affect more parts of your body — like your shoulders or ears — than other types of migraine headaches.
How common is temporomandibular joint?
About 11 to 12 million people in the United States suffer from TMJ pain. Temporomandibular joint disorders are twice as common in women as in men.
Specialists who can help
Because TMJ disorders and migraines have a number of possible causes, it may be necessary to see more than one specialist in hopes of diagnosis and treatment. Talk to your primary health care provider (PCP) about a referral for TMJ symptoms and/or migraines.
Here are some of the specialists who may be able to help you with TMJ headaches.
With a physical exam, imaging tests, and an assessment of your medical history a neurologist can accurately diagnose your migraines. They can also help rule out other possible medical conditions that could be causing your TMD symptoms and/or headaches.
A neurologist can also help you pinpoint and avoid possible triggers, in addition to prescribing medication and recommending exercise and behavior changes.
Some clinicians believe so bruxism (Teeth clenching) and misaligned teeth and jaws may be partially responsible for TMD.
Using X-rays and other diagnostic testing tools, a dentist can examine your jaw and teeth for signs of injury or disc displacement. To treat your symptoms, a dentist may suggest jaw exercises, medication, a night plate or bite guard, or orthodontic treatment. In severe cases, he may also refer you to an oral surgeon.
Some research suggests that regular chiropractic care can help with TMJ headaches and pain. A chiropractor can make manual adjustments to relieve tension in the jaw, neck, and shoulders.
A chiropractor is a complementary medicine practitioner who focuses on the spine and spinal manipulation to address health issues, particularly back and neck pain.
To treat a TMJ disorder, a physical therapist begins with an assessment. They will review your medical history and symptoms, physically examine your jaw, and assess your posture and range of motion in your jaw, neck, or both.
Based on their evaluation, a physical therapist can treat your symptoms using methods such as heat or ice application, massage, postural instruction, TMJ mobilizations, and exercise.
Some research suggests that therapeutic ultrasound, when used by a physical therapist in conjunction with home exercise, can reduce pain and improve mobility in people with TMD.
psychiatrist or psychologist
Many people with TMD have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Because stress is a common trigger for TMJ headaches, a psychiatrist or psychologist may be able to help treat the underlying causes of your symptoms.
Some doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or other medications that may help with co-occurring mental illnesses.
Others can assess your tension patterns using biofeedback — a technique that uses sensors to monitor your heart rate, breathing, and muscle contractions. This can help you learn to stop yourself from tensing the muscles in your jaw.
Botox for migraines
Botox (botulinum toxin type A) is injected in small amounts into the muscles to relax them. Botox has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of chronic migraines (defined as headaches lasting 15 or more days per month). It is not FDA approved for the treatment of TMD.
Self-care and conservative treatment
Many TMJ headaches and other TMD symptoms can be effectively treated without medical intervention. Here are some of the ways you can treat or prevent your symptoms at home.
coping with stress
Since stress is a common trigger for TMD and migraines, it’s important to take care of yourself with ongoing stress management techniques. This can include:
- breathing exercises
- Mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as meditation
- Soothing hobbies like adult coloring books
- get enough sleep
Some simple changes in your daily behavior and habits can help reduce symptoms of TMJ headache. Some of these minor changes may include:
- Eat softer foods
- Exercise the jaw gently
- With hot or cold compresses
- Relaxation of the jaw muscles throughout the jaw
There are also some habits you should avoid to prevent TMJ headaches, including:
- chewing gum
- clenching of the jaw
- Chewing on pens and other writing utensils
- chewing finger nails
Your doctor may prescribe or recommend certain medications to reduce pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, and other symptoms of temporomandibular migraines.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen), may also help with temporary pain relief.
Some essential oils can be applied topically (on the skin) to help treat temporomandibular migraine pain. Peppermint oil, for example, has potential pain-relieving properties. Frankincense oil can reduce inflammation, while lavender oil can help with muscle tension.
It’s important that you dilute essential oils in a carrier oil (like coconut oil) before applying them to your skin, otherwise they can cause irritation. Discuss their use with your dentist or healthcare provider.
There is limited evidence for the overall effectiveness of essential oils, but they may provide temporary pain relief.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) refer to a collection of disorders related to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects the head to the jaw.
TMJ disorders cause pain, tenderness, and other symptoms (such as clicking and popping) in the masseter muscles, jaw, neck, shoulders, head, and surrounding areas. They can also trigger migraines and chronic facial pain.
Specialists who can help with TMJ headaches include neurologists, dentists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and psychotherapists. Home treatments for TMJ headache can include over-the-counter medications, behavior modifications, and stress management techniques.
A word from Verywell
TMJ headaches and related symptoms can be frustrating, especially when they become chronic or severe. It’s important to avoid TMJ flare-ups as much as possible through behavior changes and self-care techniques. Try to manage your stress. If necessary, see a specialist for your temporomandibular joint and migraine pain.
frequently asked Questions
- Do temporomandibular migraines go away on their own?
TMJ migraines often go away on their own, without medical intervention. TMJ headaches and flare-ups can last just a few hours or a few days. But they can become chronic, especially during times of stress or illness.
- What works best for jaw pain and headaches?
Short-term relief from jaw pain and headaches can include relaxation techniques, medications (such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs), hot or cold compresses, and massage.
In the long term, it is also important to recognize and avoid or treat headache triggers. These can include lack of sleep, lack of light and noise, certain foods and medications, poor posture, chewing gum, and stress, among others.
- How do dentists diagnose temporomandibular joint disorders?
Dentists can perform a dental exam, including imaging tests such as X-rays, to look for signs of TMJ disorder. Your assessment could point to certain possible causes of temporomandibular joint pain. These may include signs of teeth grinding or clenching, signs of injury, dislocations, or misalignments.