The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the socket or hinge that connects your jaw to your skull. It allows us to chew, yawn, and talk. A large number of muscles that control the joint are located not only in the jaw and cheek area but also on the top and sides of the head. For this reason, when people experience problems with their TMJ, one of the symptoms could be migraine pain.
The issue with collective jaw pain and headache is that it’s easy to misdiagnose as a tension headache. In fact, a recent study carried out by the Dental School at the University of Buffalo found that out of 582 participants who regularly suffered with TMJ problems, 152 participants (31.5 percent) also suffered tension-type headaches. In other words…in many cases, the two are inextricably linked.
So how does TMJ disorder happen?
TMJ problems can be caused by any number of instances which include:
- Constant teeth grinding and jaw clenching (Bruxism)
- Malocclusions or a misaligned bite
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Frequent gum chewing
Any of the above can cause overuse of this muscle, which in turn can inflame the TMJ joint, resulting in stiffness. This can lead to a whole host of problems including toothache, earache, and shoulder pain, as well as jaw pain and headache.
The good news is that jaw pain treatment doesn’t have to involve surgery. In fact -and not so surprisingly- the best way to prevent jaw pain and any related headaches is by avoiding any unnecessary use. Here are some tips…
If you are a frequent gum chewer, then you might want to switch to sucking on a mint or swishing with mouthwash. This will still help to keep your breath fresh but places less stress on your jaw.
If you are experiencing jaw tenderness coupled with the start of a headache, one way to ease the problem might be to give your jaw a gentle massage.
Gently kneading the TMJ area can help to increase blood flow, alleviating much of the stiffness, tension, and/or inflammation. Firstly locate your TMJ (You’ll find it around 7- 8 cms back from the corner of your mouth). Then, gently press down on the joint in a circling motion. Continue until the area desensitises and the pressure eases.
Dealing with Bruxism
Night time teeth grinding or habitual jaw clenching (another cause of TMJD), is thought to be caused in part by stress and/or anxiety. Yet, while taking control of your anxiety can be achieved through self-healing techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, etc, they don’t always work for everyone.
Conversely, jaw pain treatment for problems like bruxism can also involve help via an experienced sleep dentist. They can utilise a technique known as oral appliance therapy. During the treatment, the patient wears an individually customised mouth guard during sleep. It’s designed to ease pressure on the temporomandibular joint and allows the patient to get the peaceful and trouble-free sleep they need.
Treating a misaligned bite
In many cases, where a misaligned bite is causing jaw pain and headaches, then wearing orthodontic appliances such as braces or aligners are the standard ‘go to’ jaw pain treatment for bite realignment. This treatment is particularly good for an overbite where the upper jaw is positioned slightly forward and the upper teeth protrude. The idea is that once teeth are back in alignment, less stress is placed on the jaw muscles and therefore, any jaw pain and other associated problems are relieved.
A word on ill-fitting dentures and TMJ pain
When a patient wears a set of ill-fitting dentures, the risks of jaw pain and headache problems will increase. Why? Because, like bite misalignment, when your teeth don’t fit together, the jaw joint – along with the muscles around it – become imbalanced. As a result, jaw stiffness, jaw pain, and of course, headaches are commonplace.
The key takeaway
If you do experience frequent headaches, particularly tension or migraine headaches, then don’t be surprised if the root cause of the problem is your jaw, or rather your TMJ. The good news is that if TMJ disorder is diagnosed, then there are a variety of ways, other than surgery, that it can be treated.
If you suffer from a combined jaw pain and headache, then contact Dr Teo and the team at the Melbourne Dental Sleep Clinic for a consultation. We’ll get to the bottom of your problems and devise a tailor-made dental treatment allowing you to be able to move on with your life, both pain and problem-free.