Millions suffer from TMJ headaches, and they are probably the least understood and the most misdiagnosed of any type of headache. The symptoms of a TMJ headache can closely mimic those of sinus headache, tension headache, migraine headache, and sometimes the cluster headache.
Types of Headaches:
Many TMJD patients experience migraine type headaches. Sometimes these occur because of the pressure placed on the joints in the jaw. Because of this pressure, the muscles are in a constant state of tension (or contraction). Facial muscles may begin to cramp, causing intense pain which may in turn cause nausea and sensitivity to light.
Described as a sudden burst of pain behind one eye. Less common than migraine, and more common in men than women. TMJ headaches can feel like cluster headaches (severe pain on one side of the eye), but generally they are not classic cluster headaches.
These types of headaches are pressure based and feel worse when the head is tilted forward. The symptoms for sinus headache include earaches and runny nose. Sinus-like symptoms can occur because ears, nose and mouth are in close proximity and all connect with one another. Some TMJ disorder patients have reported experiencing more sinus infections once they were diagnosed with TMJD. As of right now we are not really sure what the connection is.
A tension headache can range from a dull ache to sharp pain. The pain can be felt as surface pain from tense muscles in the area of the TMJ, to the upper regions of the neck and down to the shoulders. The pain may change when eating, yawning or swallowing. TMJ tension headaches can be referred pain or pain that originates from the jaw and radiates to the temple area. The pain is often described as feeling like a vice or a tight rubber band around the forehead.
TMJ Headache Triggers
- Dental problems
- Hormonal changes such as those that occur during the menstrual cycle.
- Clenching and grinding
- Poor posture
- Extreme physical exertion
- Certain foods such as chocolate, cheese, and MSG
- Medication and substance overuse
- Changes in the weather
- Make a plan to help relieve your stress. Find something that you love to do, and take time everyday to do it.
- Watch your diet. Avoid foods that known to trigger headaches.
- Apply ice or moist heat to sore jaw muscles.
- Avoid eating hard or chewy foods.
Treatment for TMJ related headaches is not much different than if they were not TMJ related. The first step is figuring out which type of headache you have, since treatments vary. A primary care physician would most likely be the first stop to figure out the type of headache you are experiencing. If the headaches are not complicated, your GP may be able to treat them without referring to a specialist. Treatments can vary from over the counter medications, to abortive medications (like Imitrex), to preventive medications like Topamax (also used for seizures or nerve pain). If your general practitioner is not equipped to diagnose your headache, or you are having headaches often without any relief, you may need to see a specialist. The type of specialist that treats headache is a neurologist.
It is also important to discuss what is called medication overuse headache (MOH). Many TMJ disorder patients that have headaches take medications often, and this can cause medication overuse headache. Most headachemedications can cause MOH, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), opioids (Vicodin), Triptans (Imitrex), etc. Each type of medication has it’s own criteria for how much use can cause MOH. However, a general definition is that a patient is susceptible to MOH when they have headaches present for 15 days or more a month plus use of one or more medications during these headaches, for more than 3 months. Overuse headaches can be difficult to treat, so it is important that you understand what they are and discuss them with your doctor.