Headaches are one of the most common complaints people experience. Headaches can cause significant discomfort, leading to reduced productivity and lost work time. But headaches can be hard to treat because they can be caused by many different things.

If TMJ is causing your headaches, we can help. But how do you know that TMJ is the cause of your headaches? Here are six clues to look out for:

woman holding her head with a migraine headache

Headaches Occur after Jaw Activity

One of the most important clues that link headaches with TMJ is the fact that intense jaw activity sets off your headaches. This can include chewing tough foods, opening your mouth wide, talking for long periods of time, and other activities that put your jaw muscles to the test.

This is perhaps ironic because more and more research says TMJ is associated mostly with migraines, not tension-type headaches. This is not to say that only migraines are linked to TMJ, but it seems that TMJ tends to worsen migraines more than it worsens other types of headaches.

You Clench Your Teeth before, during, or after Headaches

One kind of jaw activity that’s worth singling out is teeth clenching or bruxism. Bruxism is a parafunction–something you’re doing with your jaw that you’re not supposed to do–that is often associated with TMJ and TMJ-related headaches. Bruxism can occur during the day or night, so it may be responsible for those morning headaches you get (though that could also be sleep apnea).

You also Have Jaw Pain, Clicking or Restricted Movement

Temporomandibular joint disorders often manifest in the jaw first or at the same time as they cause symptoms elsewhere. If you experience jaw pain , that’s a sign you have TMJ that may be causing your headaches. Jaw sounds like clicking or popping occur because the cushioning disk in the temporomandibular joint is out of place, but can slip back into place–that causes the sound. Restricted jaw movement occurs when the disk won’t slip back in place, but rather interferes with the motion of your jaw.

The “Pencil Test”

Here’s a quick test you can perform at home. It’s not foolproof, but it can give you a hint that TMJ might be contributing to your headaches.

Next time you have a headache, gently hold a pencil between your teeth. If it changes the pain you’re feeling–either lessening it or increasing it–then it’s likely that TMJ is contributing to your headaches.

You Experience Other TMJ Symptoms

Headaches are a common TMJ symptom, but it’s not the only one outside the jaw. Check for other related symptoms, such as:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), ear stuffiness, or ear pain
  • Vertigo or dizzy spells
  • Tooth damage or wear
  • Neck, shoulder, or upper back pain
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers

If you experience one or more of these symptoms in addition to jaw symptoms listed above, then it’s likely that TMJ is contributing to your headaches.

Conventional Headache Care Isn’t Working

Unfortunately, sometimes we can only track down the causes of headaches through a process of elimination. If your doctor is treating you for the supposed cause of your headaches but you aren’t experiencing results, then it’s likely that there’s a true cause that hasn’t been tracked down yet. This is still possible, even if you’ve been diagnosed with migraine. As we’ve noted above, people with TMJ are more likely to experience migraines. In fact, having TMJ increases your risk of migraines by almost 60%! And it makes it more likely that you have frequent migraines. People with muscular TMJ are almost twice as likely to experience daily or multiple migraines in a week than those without jaw muscle tension.

TMJ is often one of the last causes people consider, but it should be considered sooner.

If you are tired of headache care that isn’t working for your headaches and want to learn whether TMJ treatment with neuromuscular dentistry can help, please call (910) 392-6060 for an appointment with Wilmington, NC TMJ dentist Michael Kuzma.