Headaches are one of the most common chronic health problems that people face and one of the most common reasons they see a doctor. Unfortunately, headaches are also one of the most difficult health conditions to pin down, because they can be related to many different causes. Identifying the source of your headaches is vital to getting the right treatment, but how can you pin down the cause?
Here are six clues you can use to see if your headaches might be related to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Does Jaw Activity Trigger Headaches?
If headaches tend to occur after periods of intense jaw activity, then it’s very likely that you are experiencing TMJ-related headaches. Some of the more common forms of jaw activity that trigger headaches are chewing gum or tough foods, speaking loud or for long periods of time, and opening your mouth wide, either for eating, for dental care, or other activities.
Do You Clench Your Teeth before, during, or after Headaches?
Clenching is a jaw activity that can regularly trigger headaches. Called bruxism, this is a kind of parafunction–an activity your jaw is not meant to perform. Clenching and grinding your teeth puts stress on the jaw joint and the jaw muscles, which are responsible for many headaches.
Other times, you might be clenching your jaw to try to provide stability to muscles that are overworked because they’re trying to overcome instability in your jaw system.
If you are waking up with headaches, it’s likely that you have night bruxism and you are clenching your teeth while you sleep.
Do You also Have Jaw Pain, Clicking or Restricted Movement?
TMJ is named for its relationship to the temporomandibular joints, and it’s often there that the disorder manifests first. Jaw pain is often taken as the first symptom of TMJ, but popping or clicking from displaced jaw discs may be one of the most definitive symptoms. If you experience jaw popping or clicking, it is best to get treatment before the condition progresses and causes restricted jaw movement. Sometimes jaw pain might be interpreted as face pain, and even as headaches because the jaw muscles extend up to the temples.
The “Pencil Test”
The pencil test is a quick way to gauge whether TMJ might be causing your headaches. Like all home diagnostic tests, it’s not foolproof, but it can give you some important information.
Next time you have a headache, open your jaw and place a pencil between your teeth. Don’t bite down or clench, just hold the pencil there. See if that has an impact on the severity of your headache, either for better or for worse. If it does, then it’s likely that TMJ is related to your headaches.
You Experience Other TMJ Symptoms
Headaches and jaw pain are the most common TMJ symptoms, but because they’re very close and overlap, you might not realize you have both. Instead, consider TMJ symptoms outside the jaw, which may include:
- Tooth damage or wear
- Ear symptoms like tinnitus or ear pain
- Dizzy spells or vertigo
- Pain in the neck, shoulders, or upper back
- Tingling or numbness in the fingers
If you have some of these symptoms, then you should investigate TMJ treatment for your headaches.
Conventional Headache Care Isn’t Working
Unfortunately, sometimes headache care is lacking. Often, we only know that we have a misdiagnosis because the current care is not giving the desired results. If the treatments recommended by your general doctor or your headache specialist aren’t working, it may be time to consider TMJ treatment as a way to treat your headaches.