How TMJ Headaches get Misdiagnosed as Migraines

tmj headaches misdiagnosed

tmj headaches misdiagnosedSan Francisco, Marin, and Oakland, CA

What’s worse than living with chronic pain? Having that pain misdiagnosed, and thus being unable to find relief. This is the dilemma facing many individuals who are experiencing frequent headaches as a result of temporomandibular joint disorder (also referred to as TMJ disorder or TMD). Your San Francisco neuromuscular dentists at Glen Park Dental would like to explain how TMJ headaches can be misdiagnosed as migraines, and what we can do about your chronic headaches.

TMJ disorder can be difficult to diagnose

This is because the symptoms of the disorder can vary so widely from person to person. One patient with TMJ disorder may experience difficulty chewing and jaw soreness. Another may experience ringing in the ears and neck pain. Headaches are a rather common symptom of TMJ disorder and, according to a 2006 study conducted at the University at Buffalo’s School of Dental Medicine, these headaches often are misidentified. Of the study participants, all of whom reported suffering from tension headaches, 82 percent of females and 17 percent of males had symptoms consistent with TMJ disorder. 

Why does this misdiagnosis occur so often? Both tension headaches and headaches caused by TMD aggravate the trigeminal nerve, which transmits more sensory information to the brain than any other neural pathway in the entire body. Still, TMJ headaches and tension headaches do not have the exact same list of symptoms. Migraines, for example, often cause nausea and heightened sensitivity to both light and sound. Meanwhile, a patient with TMJ disorder often experiences jaw problems, such as stiffness in the jaw joints, limited range of motion in the jaws, tenderness in the jaws, or identifying clicking or grinding sound whenever the jaw moves.

Headaches caused by TMJ will not go away until the root cause is treated

Headaches can be caused by any one of a wide variety of stimuli or conditions. Likewise, the symptoms of TMJ disorder run the gamut. Regardless of their source, having frequent, painful headaches never should be considered normal. If you have sought treatment for your headaches, but your remedies are not working, then you should be screened by a neuromuscular dentist to see if you have TMJ disorder.

Why should you see a neuromuscular dentist?

Neuromuscular dentists have unique training that makes them the best-qualified medical professionals to identify a case of TMJ disorder and then provide treatment. At Glen Park Dental, we are fortunate enough to have two neuromuscular dentists on our staff: Dr. Carlos Longa and Dr. Kimberlee Dickerson. They can conduct a fairly simple evaluation to see if they identify warning signs of TMJ disorder, then prescribe treatment to remedy whatever is causing the temporomandibular joint to remain in a dysfunctional state. Once the stress on the temporomandibular joint is alleviated, other related issues will start to go away—including any headaches caused by the disorder.

The important thing to remember is that if you are experiencing headaches or some other type of significant pain as a result of TMJ disorder, the problem will not go away on its own. In fact, an untreated case of this disorder only will get worse, causing more symptoms or intensifying existing symptoms. You don’t have to live that way. Schedule a consultation with one of the neuromuscular dentists at Glen Park Dental today by calling (415) 585-1500.

Glen Park Dental serves the needs of patients in Marin, Oakland, and San Francisco in California.