Most people wouldn’t go to the emergency room for a toothache (or would they?), so why would you consider seeing a dentist for headaches?
Because you may be suffering from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), a common condition that stems from the connective region between the jaw and the skull, and can be felt throughout the body. TMJ is often misdiagnosed by general physicians who lack experience in neuromuscular dentistry, and many who suffer from its discomfort do so without the knowledge that relief is available.
Recurring headaches frequently described as migraines are common among those with TMJ. Although TMJ derives its name from the temporomandibular joints, which connect the mandible to the skull, the pain associated with TMJ can emanate from the trigeminal nerve, which registers sensation throughout the face and is the motor nerve responsible for biting and chewing.
A misaligned jaw or a bite condition can shift and stress the temporomandibular joints, which puts undue strain on the trigeminal nerve and other connective components. This can cause shooting headaches, which may become progressively worse without treatment.
TMJ headaches can also be severe tension headaches. Did you know your jaw muscles extend all the way from the bottom of your jaw to just behind the eyes on either side of your head? When these large, powerful muscles hurt, it can create a painful, squeezing sensation in your head.
Additional TMJ Symptoms
These headaches are typically accompanied by other symptoms, which may include:
- Jaw pain
- Jaw clicking or popping
- Difficulty opening or closing the mouth
- Difficulty biting or chewing
- Earaches or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Pain the neck, shoulders and back
- Tingling in the hands or fingers
TMJ indicators vary depending on the source and severity of the condition, although there are links between some causing factors and symptoms. For example, a 2013 study found a mutual association between temporomandibular joint disorder, nighttime bruxism (teeth grinding), and headaches.
Treating TMJ Headaches
Some medications may temporarily relieve headaches and other discomfort caused by TMJ, but the pain will always return unless you treat the source of the problem. And taking too many medications can lead to medication overuse headaches, also called “rebound headaches.”
Many patients benefit from occasional TENS sessions. TENS is an acronym for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and TENS therapy uses a mild electrical current to massage and relax the jaw muscles. This allows the jaw to settle into a comfortable, natural resting position.
Other patients find long-term relief from TMJ with the use of an oral appliance sometimes referred to as a “bite splint.” This device is a custom-made mouthpiece similar to a sports guard, but it is designed to hold your jaw in its optimal position. Oral appliances can also help reduce the damaging effects of bruxism.
Trained in neuromuscular dentistry at the esteemed LVI Global dental institution, Rockland County dentist Dr. Mark Dunayer has helped many patients eliminate their headaches and TMJ discomfort. If you suffer from migraine-like headaches and other vague symptoms that have defied diagnosis and treatment, please call B & D Dental Excellence at (845) 627-7645 to schedule your appointment at our West Nyack, NY, office.