Is My Headache Related to My Jaw?
Have you ever wondered where your headache was coming from? Did you ever think it had something to do with your jaw? Most people don’t. Oftentimes people wonder, “Can TMJ cause headaches everyday?” The truth is, yes. Because a headache is so common, it often becomes labeled incorrectly. People suffering from headaches are constantly misdiagnosed and end up at a neurologist rather than a dentist, although the relation between neck and jaw pain with headache is apparent.
There are several different types of headaches that a person can experience. The most common are the following:
- Tension Headaches – usually the result of fatigue or stress; chronic or episodic. These headaches are frequently caused by clenching the teeth together in the daytime and/or nighttime bruxism. Neck and shoulder muscles are typically sore with chronic tension headaches.
- Cluster Headaches – very intense and labeled as the “most severe”. This type of headache can be debilitating, and can last for several days as a time. It is unclear what causes these types of headaches.
- Sinus Headaches – the result of an inflamed sinus cavity due to infection. These can usually be treated with an antibiotic and/or decongestant.
- Migraine Headaches – considered vascular in nature. They can be isolated to one side of the head or feel as if they take up the whole head. A number of different stimuli could set off a migraine (diet, bright light, stress, allergies).
The most common headache-related symptoms that patients in my office have include pain in the temples (temporal), pain behind the eyes, pain in the back of the head (occipital), pain in the very front of the head (frontal) or a pressure all around the head that almost feels like they are wearing a tight headband.
Unfortunately, knowledge about the relationship between jaw dysfunction and headaches is not well known. In recent years, more studies have been done, but the awareness is still not out there. Underlying jaw problems (TMJ disorders) are often ignored, and if that is the case, then the headache treatments may not even address the actual problem. As a result, many people have become overmedicated and addicted to pain medications, which in turn cause more health issues.
Let’s start at the beginning. When you chew, for example, your jaw muscles become tightened when you clench down. Your jaw is positioned by the way your upper and lower teeth fit together. This is called your “occlusion”. If your occlusion is off, as a result of your jaw being dislocated, then your jaw is in a constant strained position. Over time, this incorrect position will put strain on the surrounding muscles, resulting in referred pain. This referred pain can manifest itself through the head, neck, shoulders, ears and eyes. If these surrounding muscles become stressed due to the malocclusion, headaches and TMJ pain will increase.
Most pain comes from muscle. If your muscles are not functioning well because of fatigue from supporting your dislocated TM joints, they produce pain. You can relate it to a hard workout at the gym. You don’t feel any pain at the time, but the next day, you’re sore. This is the same idea for the TMJ, only it is much more understated.
Approximately 20 million Americans suffer from TMJ headaches, and they affect many more women than men (8:1). Although some dentists can recognize the relationship between TMD and headaches, most are unable to manage the problem. Dr. Richard Klein is specifically trained in diagnosing and treating headaches as they relate to TMJ disorders . His treatment modalities include splint therapy, tens unit usage, physical massaging, heat applications and trigger point injections.
If you are experiencing headaches and/or any of the other symptoms of TMD, please contact Dr. Klein to get a proper diagnosis and begin treating the underlying cause. Your headaches could be reduced or even eliminated with one of the treatments used at Michigan Head & Neck Institute. Give us a call today at (586) 573 – 0438.
University at Buffalo. “Study Suggests Tension Headache May Actually Be TMJD.” ScienceDaily, 14 May 2006. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060514082537.htm
Anderson GC, John MT, Ohrbach R, et al. Influence of Headache Frequency on Clinical Signs and Symptoms of TMD in Subjects with Temple Headache and TMD Pain. Pain. 2011;152(4):765-771.
Okeson, JP. Bell’s Orofacial Pain. The Clinical Management of Orofacial Pain. 6th edition. Chicago: Quintessence Publishing Co, Inc 2005.
The relationship between headache and symptoms of temporomandibular disorder in the general population. J Dent. 2001 Feb;29(2):93-8.