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Causes of Migraine Headaches: TMJ?

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: November 4, 2011

Could TMJ be the Cause of a Migraine Headache?

The answer is: No!

People who suffer from chronic debilitating headaches are often misdiagnosed because doctors sometimes mistake tension headaches (which can be cause by TMJ disorders), for migraine headaches. The reason is that it’s not unusual for people who have TMJ to experience headaches that are as intensely painful as migraines. But TMJ does cause of migraines.

How Does TMJ Cause Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches and can be caused by the constant tension held in the muscles in your face, head, and neck when they remain contracted over a long period of time. The tension that can build in your jaw muscles from a TMJ problem can lead to such powerful headaches that they’re often mistaken for a migraine. In addition, when the muscles in your jaw, face, or neck constrict, they reduce blood flow.  As a result, less oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles, which predispose them to fatigue and pain.  Also, as the nerves running through the muscles become irritated, lactic acid and other irritating chemicals accumulate. The end result is more intense headache pain symptoms, that can be as intense as a migraine.

A dentist with experience in TMJ and neuromuscular disorders of the jaw can properly diagnose the difference between TMJ and migraines. Some symptoms of TMJ headaches include:

  • Tightness around the head
  • Band-like pressure around the temples
  • Persistent aching in the jaw muscles
  • Discomfort in the facial muscles
  • Increased pain with jaw use

Once diagnosed, there are a number of relief options for TMJ-related tension headaches. Treatments include:

  • Jaw and Neck Exercises
  • Muscular Injections
  • Physiotherapy
  • Medications
  • Oral Appliances
  • Simple Relaxation and Sleep Strategies

Before you dismiss the possibility of a disorder in the TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint), be aware of the symptomatic similarities between TMJ and migraines. The difference could mean a lifetime of relief from the pain of tension headaches.

Dr. Donald Tanenbaum has been practicing in New York City and Long Island for over 20 years. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat bruxism, TMJ and TMD problems, Sleep Apnea, facial pain,  muscle pain disorders, nerve pain disorders, tension headaches, and snoring. Learn more about Dr. Tanenbaum here.

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