Your body is a giant, interconnected system. What happens to one of your muscles can easily affect entirely different parts of your body. And believe it or not, the joint that controls your jaw can cause headaches and migraines.

What Is The TMJ?

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It’s the joint that connects your jaw with your skull like a hinge connects a door to a wall. Any time you open your mouth (which means any time you talk, yawn, eat, or drink), you are using your TMJ. This joint is designed to be used throughout the day, so unless you literally talk all day long, you shouldn’t have any problems using your TMJ. If you are experiencing pain, discomfort, soreness, or something similar when you open or close your mouth, you could have a disorder called TMD.

Is There Any Difference Between TMJ And TMD?

Technically speaking, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) refers to the jaw joint, while TMD (temporomandibular disorder) refers to that jaw joint giving you chronic problems. If you’re talking about pain or discomfort when trying to open or close your mouth, you are talking about TMD. However, because the two terms are so similar, many people use them interchangeably.

Many people experience some sort of TMD within their lives, but your body is a resilient thing, and such pain can often go away once you give your jaw joint a little rest. However, some people either cannot give their jaw time to heal, or the damage in the joint is too severe for it to recover naturally. When this happens, you will need to come to our Highland, MI dental office for treatment.

How Does TMJ/TMD Cause Headaches?

TMD has a lot of symptoms. These include:

  • Pain and similar conditions with your ears (such as dizziness or ringing)
  • Popping and clicking noises when you open or close your jaw
  • Neck and upper shoulder pain
  • Snoring or sleep apnea
  • Tightness in the muscles in the neck
  • Sinus pain
  • Lockjaw (difficulty opening or closing your jaw)
  • Pain in the jaw or facial muscles
  • Bruxism (consciously or unconsciously grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw)

But one of the more annoying symptoms is headaches and migraines. Some people get these especially in the morning, while others can experience such pain throughout the day. These headaches are sometimes misdiagnosed as sinus problems or tension headaches but could very well be caused by your TMD.

When your muscles in the jaw joint repeatedly tighten and get sore from TMD, that puts extra pressure on the other muscles in the area. Pain in the TMJ can travel to other parts of your skull, which is why you can have headaches and migraines with TMD.

What Causes TMD In The First Place?

The exact causes of TMD are still unknown and can vary from person to person. However, there are some likely culprits. Arthritis or a condition that causes inflammation of your muscles can cause TMD, as can any injury to your jaw. Stress appears related, as severe stress can cause you to hold tension in your TMJ, leading to TMD.

Bruxism is almost a chicken-and-the-egg problem. The tension and stress that can trigger TMD can cause you to start grinding your teeth, but the grinding and jaw clenching that are part of bruxism can put tension on your TMJ and lead to pain and discomfort in that jaw joint.

But the way your teeth come together can also be a cause. Your teeth are supposed to come together in a very specific way, and if you have something like an overbite or underbite, you could be putting extra stress on your jaw joint, which can lead to TMD.

What Can A Dentist Do About TMJ/TMD?

There are a few treatment options if you are suffering from TMD. The easiest is to try and cut down on the stress in your life. Since stress is linked to TMD, spending more time relaxing can ease the tension and give your TMJ time to heal. Massages (not just of the facial muscles) and relaxation techniques can reduce your tension and stress, leading to improvement with TMJ pain. It might help to avoid hard foods (like raw carrots or hard pretzels) and focus on softer foods (like yogurt or soup) for a bit, again to give your TMJ a rest.

If these won’t work, Dr. LoCascio can help. He understands how occlusion (or how your teeth come into contact when you bite) should work, and how it can contribute to TMD when it doesn’t work properly. He can give you a night guard that can help. Similar to a mouthguard, this device fits over your teeth and stays in while you sleep. It moves your jaw slightly, helping the TMJ to rest more, which gives it more time to heal.

If you have a problem with headaches or migraines, it could very well be caused by TMD. Call us today at 248-329-3552 for an appointment so we can see if your temporomandibular joint is contributing to your headaches.