Headaches: How Often is Too Often?

frequent headachesEveryone experiences headaches now and again, but if you find yourself dealing with headaches several times a month, it may be an indication of a Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD) also known as TMJ.

TMJ is a condition that affects your Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ) or jaw joints. Improper alignment of the jaw joints and teeth can cause stress, leading to headaches and other facial pain. Problems may also affect the muscles in your face that help you speak, chew and open and close your mouth.

What makes a TMJ-related headache different from a common tension headache?

Pain from the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be easily mistaken for a common headache, mostly because the symptoms are so similar. But there are a few key differences. Along with frequent headaches, TMJ pain usually involves some or all of these symptoms:

  • A crackling or grinding when you move your jaw
  • Stiffness/limited mobility in the jaw joint
  • Facial tenderness and pain in the area in front of your ear (sometimes mistaken for an earache).

TMJ headaches often occur in the morning, caused by teeth grinding or clenching during sleep. Typically, the pain of TMJ headaches starts in front of the ear and spreads to the rest of the head or neck

What causes TMJ disorder?

TMJ can be caused by:

  • Teeth Grinding (also called Bruxism) which can be controlled with a night guard
  • Trauma, including injury to the jaw or long-term teeth grinding
  • Stress, tension or anxiety
  • Malocclusion or poor alignment of the teeth
  • Arthritis of the jaw joints

What lifestyle changes can I make to relieve symptoms?

Avoiding chewing gum, eating softer foods, reducing stress, and jaw massages and exercises (as suggested by your dentist), and taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate or reduce TMJ headaches, but it’s important to also involve your dentist in properly diagnosing your condition. Formal treatment may be necessary to effectively and permanently relieve frequent headaches, stiffness and pain associated with TMJ.

How is TMJ treated at Morgan & Haupt Dentistry?

Your dentist will review the history of your problem and determine the best possible option which may involve one or both of the following:

Splint or Night Guards

One of the simplest and most effective ways for treating TMJ headaches is through custom made mouth guards (note: in most cases, store-bought night guards are not sufficient and can actually worsen the problem). Typically worn at night, these are used to adjust the alignment of the jaw. The guard covers the teeth and prevents clenching and grinding, alleviating the morning headache patients experience from TMJ.

Bite Correction

If your TMJ headaches are caused by malocclusion, we may recommend bite correction therapy. This includes reshaping the teeth, so they make proper contact through straightening procedures such as Invisalign®.