Everyone gets headaches every once in a while, and we usually attribute them to common causes: fatigue, eyestrain, stress, dehydration, along with other factors. But there’s one unsuspecting cause of headaches — particular morning headaches — that might be the culprit behind yours.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder involves issues with your jaw, and it can result in facial tension and headaches. Peter Gambertoglio, DDS, explains what you need to know about TMJ and headaches.
Who gets TMJ?
Everyone has a temporomandibular joint, so theoretically, anyone can get TMJ. However, we do know that women tend to be more susceptible to the disorder, especially in childbearing years. About 12 percent of the population — or about 35 million people — in the United States have a form of TMJ at any given time.
Many people with TMJ never find out the cause of their condition, but we know of a few things that can contribute to TMJ, including:
- Joint erosion
- History of clenching or grinding teeth
- Structural problems with the jaw (such as misalignment)
- Damage to the joint from an injury
How can I tell if I have TMJ?
The most prevalent symptoms of TMJ include pain and tenderness in your jaw, as well as locking of the joint, which makes it difficult to open and close your mouth. TMJ may also present with symptoms such as:
- Pain in or around your ear, which might be mistaken for an ear infection
- Chronic aches on one or both sides of your head
- Difficulty chewing, drinking, or swallowing
- Pain when chewing
One of the most common symptoms of TMJ is recurrent headaches.
Why does TMJ cause morning headaches?
If you’ve noticed yourself waking up with headaches, it might be an indication that you have TMJ. TMJ disorders alone can cause headaches, but it may be exacerbated by nighttime habits, such as clenching or grinding your teeth. TMJ pain may also be intensified if you sleep in a position that puts pressure on your jaw.
Treatment options for TMJ
Don’t fret if you have a TMJ disorder — there is plenty you can do to relieve pain and tension in your jaw, as well as reduce TMJ-related headaches.
To ease your TMJ symptoms, try a number of lifestyle modifications, such as:
- Eliminating hard foods, such as hard candy
- Don’t chew on ice or other objects, such as pens
- Avoid chewing gum
- Try to sleep on your back, rather than on your side
- Reduce stress to alleviate facial tension
Dr. Gambertoglio may recommend wearing a flat plane splint, his protective treatment method of choice. Similar to a nightguard, a flat plane splint prevents you from biting down and clenching your jaw, effectively reducing jaw tension.
Special exercises can serve as a fantastic method for reducing pain and tension in your jaw. These exercises strengthen your jaw muscles, stabilize the joint, and restore range of motion.
One such exercise is called resisted opening. Place one hand under your chin and apply gentle pressure as you open your mouth. Try out these other nine TMJ exercises.
If you try all of the above treatment options and don’t experience an improvement in your TMJ pain, Dr. Gambertoglio may deem it necessary to evaluate your condition further. Sometimes, other dental issues or underlying medical issues cause excessive TMJ dysfunction and headaches. Dr. Gambertoglio develops an individualized dental treatment plan or refers you to another medical specialist if necessary.
If you think you have a TMJ disorder, get in touch with Dr. Gambertoglio right away. Call our Spring, Texas, office at 716-265-6422 or request your appointment online.