Headaches are among the most common disorders of the neurological system. About half of adults experience at least occasional headaches, and perhaps 1 in 25 experience headaches 15 or more days every month!

Headaches can be disabling. Migraines alone were found to be the sixth highest cause of work time lost to disability, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) study.

Treating headaches is a problem at least in part because it’s hard to link headaches to their true cause. Without linking headaches to their cause, recommended treatments are at best a guess, making them unlikely to be effective. People with headaches often find themselves with treatments that help only a little or can actually be harmful, causing medication headaches, medicine dependence, addiction, and other side effects. 

One cause of headaches that can be treated effectively is temporomandibular joint disorders (abbreviated either TMJ or TMD). If your headaches are linked to TMJ, then TMJ treatment will reduce the frequency and/or severity of headaches. Best of all, TMJ treatment doesn’t depend on medications. It’s often a completely drug-free approach to headache relief. 

Here are some important considerations that can help you figure out whether your headaches are linked to TMJ. 

young woman suffering from migraine headache

Multiple Types of Headaches Are Linked to TMJ

You might think your headaches aren’t linked to TMJ because you’ve already been diagnosed with some type of “primary headache.” A primary headache is one that your doctor doesn’t think is caused by another condition. However, most doctors don’t know a lot about TMJ. They might not even be considering it as a possibility. Part of the reason why is that you might not be reporting all your related symptoms (see below)–you might not even know your symptoms are related!

Some people will tell you that TMJ headaches only cause pain in the temporal region (along the sides of your head, from the jaw to the area beside and behind your eyes). However, people diagnosed with:

  • Migraine
  • Sinus headache
  • Tension headache
  • Hypertension headache

May later learn that their headaches are actually caused by TMJ. Don’t rule out TMJ as a possible cause for your headache until you’ve finished reading through this blog. 

Are Your Current Headache Treatments Ineffective?

One major clue that TMJ is causing your headaches is that your current headache treatments just aren’t working. You might see a mild amount of relief, but it’s temporary and it doesn’t reliably keep headaches from coming back. 

One reason why your headache treatments might not be effective is that they aren’t treating the true cause of your headaches. Medications set up to combat primary headaches might not be effective on headaches caused by TMJ. To truly see improvement in these headaches, you need to treat your TMJ. 

Do You Have Other TMJ Symptoms?

One big clue that TMJ is the major or sole cause of your headaches is that you are also suffering from additional TMJ symptoms. TMJ symptoms commonly affect your jaw and teeth, but they can extend far beyond there. In fact, the number and variety of symptoms of TMJ can frequently lead to misdiagnosis, which is why some dentists call it “the great imposter.”

Some TMJ symptoms in addition to headaches include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw clicking, popping, or grinding
  • Limited movement or locking of the jaw
  • Toothaches
  • Worn down, cracking, or failing teeth
  • Facial pain
  • Bruxism (clenching and grinding of teeth)
  • Ear congestion
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • Stiff or painful neck
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers and arms

If you have several of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to get evaluated for TMJ. Even if your headaches aren’t linked to TMJ, treatment can resolve your other symptoms. 

Do Headaches Occur After Heavy Jaw Activity?

Another important indicator that TMJ is linked to your headaches is that headaches often occur after periods of intense jaw activity. 

When you think of jaw activity, you probably imagine talking or chewing. This is true. If you spend a day talking a lot–such as hanging out with friends and family, running a professional seminar, or spending a day in court defending your clients–you might experience headaches. You might also get headaches after chewing a tough meal–some people get headaches after chewing gum. 

But there are other times when your jaw is highly active. For example, you might clench your jaw unconsciously during periods of high stress. You might also clench your teeth when you’re performing strenuous physical activities. Weightlifters often develop TMJ, for example. You might also clench your teeth during sleep (night bruxism), so waking up with a headache could be a warning sign. 

Note: Morning headaches are also associated with sleep apnea, so it’s important to consider that possibility as well. 

Get Tested for TMJ in Wilmington

Do you think that temporomandibular joint disorders might be causing or contributing to your headaches? Let TMJ dentist Dr. Michael T. Rosen evaluate the health of your jaw to determine whether you might benefit from TMJ treatment. 

Please call (302) 994-0979 or use our contact form to request an appointment today at the office of Dr. Rosen in Wilmington, DE.