Migraines, Jaw Pain, and the Mysteries of TMJ Disorder

woman suffering from a migraine

If you suffer frequent headaches, you are not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that about 50% of adults (18-65) worldwide suffer from headache disorders. Of those who reported having headaches, about 30% had migraines.1 If you frequently experience the debilitating pain and nausea associated with migraines, statistics probably do not matter. You only want relief. There are various reasons for migraines, but there is one you may not have thought about…TMJ disorder. Dr. James Fondriest offers advanced treatment to help you find relief from TMJ disorders and migraines.

TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. It acts like a hinge connecting the jawbone to your skull, with a joint on either side of the jaw. If you have TMJ disorder, you may experience jaw pain and stiffness in the joints. In severe cases, you may have trouble opening and closing your jaw, making it difficult to eat and even talk. Another issue with TMJ disorder is frequent headaches and migraines.

Causes of TMJ Disorder

Experts still debate the exact causes of TMJ disorder a more thorough understanding of the jaw has helped numerous patients find relief from migraines.

The main causes of TMJ disorder can include:

  • Traumatic injury to chin, jaw or the joints
  • Missing back teeth, leading to poor alignment of the jaw
  • Poor alignment of the teeth
  • Wisdom teeth
  • Bruxism (grinding of the teeth at night)
  • Chronic teeth/jaw clenching
  • Arthritis
  • Stress
  • Poor dental treatment

The reason that TMJ disorder can lead to migraines has to do with the joint’s purpose.

The temporomandibular joints are intricately connected to your head, neck and face, allowing you to eat, swallow and talk. When the joints become inflamed or disturbed by trauma or certain dental conditions, it can lead to a range of symptoms, including migraines.

TMJ and the Trigeminal Nerve

In order to understand TMJ disorders you need to understand the trigeminal nerve. Your nervous system contains 12 groups of cranial (head and neck) nerves. The trigeminal nerve is the fifth and largest of these groups. It supplies sensations to your face and other parts of your cranial structure. It is also responsible for your jaw’s motor function, allowing you to bite and chew. Anything that inflames the trigeminal nerve can lead to pain throughout your head, neck, face, and even your shoulders.

Migraines, earaches, jaw and facial pain affect about 50% of patients.

Your Popping TMJ Joints

The term TMJ disorder stems from the temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, that connect your lower jaw (mandible) to your temporal bones. The sliding joints are located just in front of each ear and are designed to disperse the pressure of your bite throughout the entire joint. Even distribution of this pressure requires your jaws to be aligned properly. Unfortunately, your TMJs can become damaged and misaligned due to a number of factors, including crooked teeth. When your jaws are out of alignment, you may hear them pop and click as your jaw’s muscles work overtime to bite, chew, and speak. The strain can lead to TMJ disorder and sometimes debilitating discomfort in your head, neck, face, shoulder, and back.

Treating TMJ Disorder to Stop the Popping

If your jaw pops or hurts continuously, then your dentist can help determine if you have TMJ disorder and can benefit from customized treatment. After a thorough examination your dentist may suggest a custom-designed oral appliance that can help your jaw rest properly and more comfortably while you sleep. By alleviating pressure on your jaw’s joints, they can heal and regain their proper function, eliminating symptoms like jaw pain and popping joints.

Damaged Jaw Joints

In older patients, wear and tear of the cartilage between the joint and bone can lead to the development of TMJ disorder. There might be alignment issues due to missing teeth or degeneration of the jawbone, which is another common occurrence in older patients. Arthritis and other degenerative joint conditions can also be a factor. Although arthritis is more commonly associated with joints in the hands or knees, it can happen anywhere in the body, including the joints in your jaw. If you have a habit of grinding your teeth at night (bruxism), chew a lot of gum or you react to stress or anxiety by clenching your jaw a lot, you may also be at increased risk of damaging the TMJ joint.

Symptoms of TMJ Disorder

Trouble with biting, chewing, and speaking due to a stiff jaw is common in patients with TMJ disorder, but it isn’t always a factor. Other symptoms associated with TMJ disorder can include:

  • Popping or clicking sound when you open or close your mouth
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Chronic headaches, including migraines
  • Pain and/or ringing in one or both ears (tinnitus)
  • Popping or fullness in the ears, similar to a Eustachian tube dysfunction (TMJ disorder may affect the muscles that open and close the Eustachian tube, which regulates pressure in the middle ear.)

Diagnosing TMJ Disorder

TMJ disorder symptoms can include a range of problems. The diverse nature of these symptoms can make it difficult to diagnose. If you have experienced symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, or the symptoms have gotten worse, you should get checked out by a doctor or dentist.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a doctor or dentist will examine your jaw and probably:2

  • Listen to and feel your jaw when you open and close your mouth
  • Observe the range of motion of your jaw
  • Press on areas around your jaw to identify where you are feeling pain

An ultimate diagnosis of TMJ disorder can entail:

  • Dental x-rays of your jaw and teeth
  • CT scan to provide detailed imaged of the bones in your jaw
  • MRI to reveal problems with the joint’s disks or surrounding soft tissue

Another diagnostic technique is called TMJ arthroscopy. “During TMJ arthroscopy, your doctor inserts a small thin tube (cannula) into the joint space, and a small camera (arthroscope) is then inserted to view the area and to help determine a diagnosis.”2

Finding Relief

Treating TMJ disorder often begins with determining why your jaw is damaged. For instance, if your teeth are crooked, then your jaw will respond by shifting as you bite and chew. The strain can lead to TMJ disorder, and if crooked teeth are the cause, Dr. Fondriest may recommend orthodontic treatment to restore your smile and align your teeth and bite. Some bites may be more complicated to straighten, such as those that occur from a congenital jawbone defect. If one side of your jawbone is longer than the other, then your two TMJs will have trouble moving in unison, and the muscles in your jaw will work overtime to compensate. In severe cases of TMJ disorder, oral surgery may be required to rebuild your jawbone into a more symmetrical shape.

Is TMJ Preventable?

Unlike tooth decay and gum disease, there is no set routine for preventing TMJ disorder. You can reduce your risk by maintaining a good oral hygiene routine, including visiting your dentist every six months for a dental exam and cleaning. Dr. Fondriest can periodically examine your teeth, gums, jawbone, and other oral structures to gauge your bite’s balance and your risk of developing TMJ disorder. If you habitually grind or clench your jaw or teeth, there are oral appliances and retainers that can stop you from doing this.

About Lake Forest Dental Arts

Aside from providing expert cosmetic dentistry services, Dr. James Fondriest has received extensive training from the world renowned L.D. Pankey Institute, which specializes in the study of occlusion (bite) and treatment of TMJ disorders, and is considered by many to be the world’s leader in research and treatment of TMJ disorders. Dr. Fondriest is also a former Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and a caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff. We proudly serve patients in all surrounding communities in the Chicago Metro area, including the North Shore and Northwest suburbs – but we often see patients from all across the United States. To schedule your consultation, go online today or call our office at (847) 234-0517.

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