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Headaches and TMJ: How Are They Connected?

We all have headaches once in a while. The causes of headaches are many and varied, including tension, sinus pressure, and injury. One root cause of headaches, however, is often overlooked — the jaw.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the sliding hinge that lets your bottom jaw move. A jaw that can move lets you speak, eat, and drink. Your TMJ usually works well enough. But when grinding your teeth, chewing gum, and other types of overuse causes the joint to become inflamed, you’ll suffer from the temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), which can cause headaches.

Eric Wilhelm, DDS, and John Wilhelm, DDS, at The Wilhelm Dental Group in La Plata, Maryland, have helped many people who suffer from TMD-related headaches. Here’s how they do it.

TMJ explained

Your TMJ is like other joints in your body; the bones are covered with cartilage and shock-absorbing tissue. If TMJ components wear away or suffer injury, your jaw won’t move correctly, which causes pain, stiffness, headaches, and even lockjaw. 

TMD symptoms

Common symptoms of TMD include:

Headaches may not be at the top of the list of TMD symptoms, but they do occur. If you can’t figure out what’s causing your headaches, TMD is worth investigating.

TMJ treatment

If TMJ issues are causing your headaches, treatment typically starts conservatively; if that doesn’t work, treatment gets more complicated.

The first thing our doctors will do is examine your lifestyle and see if minor changes could have a big impact on your symptoms. Such changes include temporarily avoiding hard-to-chew foods and gum. You can try using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and ice packs, which can reduce inflammation. Hot compresses can help relieve pain.

If teeth grinding is causing your TMJ issues, learning relaxation techniques to reduce stress can help. 

Physical therapy and home exercises can strengthen the muscles supporting your jaw. Also, Botox® injections into contracted jaw muscles can successfully relieve headache pain triggered by teeth grinding. 

More aggressive treatments for TMD issues include oral appliances that stop nighttime teeth grinding and clear braces that change your bite and reshape your teeth.

Chronic headaches and other TMJ issues can take the joy out of life. If TMJ-related headaches are keeping you from having a good time, make an appointment at The Wilhelm Dental Group today by calling our office or using our online booking tool.

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