Is Your Migraine a Result of TMJ?

Treatment for TMJ could bring relief from migraine headaches that are often debilitating for sufferers. Many people take medications that cause drowsiness and have other side effects. But, a solution that doesn’t involve medication may be possible by treating TMD.

Migraine headaches can have many presenting symptoms such as visual auras, flashes, tunnel vision, blurry vision and light sensitivity among others. Some patients become nauseous, others experience dizziness. Some patients describe changes in hearing and can become very sensitive to loud or high frequency sounds.

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Most migraine sufferers have developed coping strategies for their attacks. Medications are typically the first line of treatment, followed by “sleeping it off”.

What does TMJ have to do with migraine headaches?

Headaches are symptoms, not diseases, although medicine often treats it as a disease. After ruling out brain tumors or other imaging-related findings, trials of various medications are tried until one is found that offers the best symptom control with the least side effects.

Chronic headache sufferers may bounce from several specialties looking for relief. There are up to two dozen medical specialties that treat headaches, yet none have a differential diagnosis unique to their specialty for a headache. Dentistry does- in the TMJ complex. More often a patient’s report of a “bad headache” is all that’s needed to “diagnose” them with “migraines” and plant the seed that “there is no cure” in the patients mind.

A TMD (temporomandibular disorder) should be high on the list of initial causes to evaluate headaches. Not to say, “TMJ fixes all headaches” but just have it evaluated by someone with a high-level of expertise as one of the diagnostic processes in finding relief.


The TMJ, or jaw joint is on the head. So what? So are my eyes, ears, and nose.

Headache pain can involve muscles on the head and neck, nerves, and joints that don’t work right in the neck and jaw. The TMJ system uses the trigeminal nerve; it controls sensation on the face, mouth, neck, ears, etc. as well as controlling most of the muscles associated with the jaw, mouth, and throat. The joint itself needs muscles on the face, under the chin, and the side and back of the neck to move the jaw to chew and talk. And the joint is highly sensitive to pressure such as occurs when it is dislocated–diagnosed by having noises in the jaw, such as clicking, popping, or scratching sounds.

Migraine headaches can involve vascular changes in the brain, often the cause of throbbing headaches, nausea, and other symptoms of migraine. That’s why vascular medications are sometimes used to treat the symptoms of a migraine, which is not a cure, just a way to temporarily relieve the pain.

The point…

The brain, as we know is the place where all the nerves throughout the body report what’s happening and the brain sends it to “committee”, decides what to do and sends messages back to the muscles, blood vessels, etc. to try and “fix” the problem. Think of the brain as the fuse box in your house. The spinal cord only uses about 20% of the “fuses” in the brain (fuse box). The 12 cranial nerves (nerves on the head) account for the other 80% of the input to the brain. The trigeminal nerve takes 70% of that and directly connects with incoming nerves from the neck and its muscles, ears, blood vessels, etc. for the head. If the trigeminal nerve is aggravated (from a clicking TMJ, uneven bite, clenching or grinding the teeth, neck problems) it can cause other nerves in the brain to fire prematurely. This is thought by some to account for a lower threshold of blood vessels to spasm in the brain that contribute to migraine symptoms. It can also cause tensing of muscles in the head, jaw, neck, and ears that become painful.

Think of the head and neck as a house with only one fuse. The microwave, all the hairdryers, curling irons, toaster, coffee pot and high electrical demand appliances represent the trigeminal (TMJ) nerve. If a lot of the trigeminal nerve items are turned “on”, it might not take more than a couple of extra lamps in the house to “trip the fuse” and cause the house to go dark.

If the TMJ/neck system is not working correctly, something such as a neck strain, shoulder strain, or clenching the teeth can trigger a complex pattern of pain in the head and neck with no apparent cause. After evaluating for serious medical conditions, it is a good idea to have a thorough TMJ assessment to see if there is a TMJ disorder. It could be the one extra lamp that blew the fuse.

Call today to schedule an appointment for evaluation.

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