TMJ Headaches vs Migraines

tmj headaches vs migraines glen parkSan Francisco, Marin, and Oakland, CA

Migraine headaches are a painful, often debilitating condition that affects millions of individuals around the world. Despite being known about for decades, the origins of migraine headaches—what causes them—remains a medical mystery.

Have you been suffering from migraine headaches without finding any lasting relief? Do medications or migraine treatments only address the intensity of your headaches, while doing nothing to diminish their frequency? If so, your migraines may be misdiagnosed and, in actuality, could be tension headaches caused by temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ/TMD).

The trigeminal nerve and headaches

Both TMJ headaches and migraines are different varieties of tension headaches. Each type of headache stimulates the trigeminal nerve in some shape, form or fashion.

The trigeminal nerve is a little-known but crucial part of your nervous system. No other neural pathway in the body carries more sensory input to the brain—not even the spinal cord.

A migraine sufferer experiences a change in brain chemistry each time an attack is taking place. Their serotonin levels diminish. Meanwhile, the trigeminal nerve sends signaling compounds to the outer covering of the brain, thus generating impulses of pain.

TMJ headaches also interact with the trigeminal nerve. TMJ, or temporomandibular joint disorder, occurs due to dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw to the skull. This joint is located very close to the trigeminal nerve. Thus, when any problem develops in the temporomandibular joint, the trigeminal nerve is often compressed when the disorder begins to affect the immediately adjacent musculature.

Symptoms of TMJ headaches and migraine headaches

TMJ headaches and migraines share many similar symptoms, which is one reason why headaches caused by TMJ often are misdiagnosed as migraines. One symptom that differentiates migraine headaches is an aura, a visual haze that may manifest as a shimmering light, zigzagging line or the feeling of “seeing stars.”

Many other symptoms are present in both TMJ headaches and migraines, such as:

  • Pain, often debilitating in nature, affecting the ability to function on a daily basis
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Acute sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Nausea or vomiting

Headache treatment

If TMJ is causing your headaches, then the problem will not go away until the root cause—the temporomandibular joint disorder itself—is treated.

If you have TMJ or suspect you may have this disorder, seek the care of a neuromuscular dentist who has specialized training to diagnose and treat TMJ and its symptoms—including painful headaches.

We can treat TMJ through the use of oral appliance therapy, which uses a specially made orthotic mouthpiece to gently guide the jaws into their preferred position, thus eliminating dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint.

Other treatment options include orthodontics, dental restorations, and prescription pain medication to manage the symptoms of TMJ.

If you have been living with painful headaches, you owe it to yourself to see if TMJ is the cause. This may be the path to the lasting relief you deserve. Contact the office of Glen Park Dental at (415) 585-1500 to schedule a consultation with one of our neuromuscular dentists.

Glen Park Dental is proud to serve the oral health needs of patients in Marin, Oakland, and San Francisco, California.

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