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Migraines & Headaches Columbia

If you suffer from a regular headaches or migraine, you’d probably give anything to get relief. Did you know that headaches and migraines can be caused by TMJ?

If you suffer from regular headaches and want to learn about another treatment option that can reduce or eliminate your pain, we invite you to talk to Dr. Adam Hahn, who have helped many headache sufferers find relief with TMJ treatment. Please call (803) 781-9090 or email Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC to schedule an appointment today.

How TMJ Causes Headaches & Migraines

TMJ is an imbalance in your jaw joint. It results in muscle tension in the muscles in your head. A tension headache is the most common type of headache, accounting for about 80% of all headaches. They can be as painful as a migraine, though generally they don’t have attendant symptoms (see below).

A tension headache can trigger migraines. Migraines may also be triggered by irritation of the trigeminal nerve in TMJ. The trigeminal nerve is known to serve a role in migraine origin, but the migraine mechanism is still poorly understood.

We do know, however, that migraine sufferers are more likely to have TMJ symptoms, and that TMJ treatment reduces the frequency and sometimes severity of migraines.

trapezius trigger points that can cause headaches
Temporalis trigger points for migraine headaches

Understanding Migraines

Over 23 million people suffer from migraines. Women are much more likely to experience chronic migraines – over 75% of the patients treated for migraines are women. A migraine or severe headache typically with attendant symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, nausea/vomiting and disturbances of vision. Migraines can last hours or days.

The exact mechanism of migraines is poorly understood, but it seems to relate to biochemical changes in the brain, which can lead to contraction, then dilation of blood vessels, along with painful inflammation of brain tissue. The brain response is what we experience as a migraine.

Types of Migraines

The common migraine, or migraine without aura, is experienced by about 80% of migraine sufferers. Although the traditional aura is missing, patients may experience other symptoms before it occurs, such as fatigue, food cravings, yawning, depression, irritability and anxiousness. Diagnostic criteria for the common migraine include sensitivity to light, vomiting or nausea, sensitivity on one side of the head, pulsing pain as with a heartbeat, and aggravation by physical activity.

  • Prodrome
  • Aura
  • Headaches
  • Post-headache

The classic migraine develops in four distinct stages:

The prodrome can occur 24 to 48 hours before the aura and may include irritability, fatigue, lack of concentration, and muscle stiffness.

During the aura, migraine sufferers will experience a slowly expanding area of blindness, surrounded by a sparkling edge of flashing lights, colors, or zig-zags of light. Other times, they may experience muscle tension or weakness, burning or tingling sensation, vertigo, speech difficulty, or nausea.

The migraine headache is typically a severe throbbing pain which may be worsened by noises and bright lights and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

During the post-headache or postdrome stage migraine sufferers may experience exhaustion, fatigue, irritability, and scalp tenderness. About 70% of migraine sufferers experience a postdrome.

Less common types of migraines are:

  • Hemiplegic migraine – includes temporary weakness or paralysis typically lasting less than an hour.
  • Ophthalmoplegic migraine – in addition to pain, the sufferer experiences droopy eyelids, pupil dilation, and paralysis of the eye, which may last up to several weeks. Most common in children.
  • Basilar artery migraine – resulting in neurological spasms lasting for about six to eight hours. More common in children.
  • Status migraine – which indicates a severe migraine attack lasting longer than 72 hours.

Migraine Triggers

There are many potential causes for the biochemical changes that lead to migraines. Here are some of the more common triggers:

Stress or emotion

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Shock
  • Excitement
  • Changes in routine

Strenuous physical activity including sexual activity


  • Chocolate
  • Cheese
  • Red wine and scotch, tequila or other dark-colored liquors
  • Fried foods


  • Intense bright lights
  • Strong odors
  • Loud noises


  • Nitroglycerin
  • Lithium
  • Anti-hypertensive
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Broncho-dilating drugs

Hormonal changes

  • Menstrual periods
  • Hormone treatments
  • Starting or stopping birth control pills can also cause migraines

However, many migraine sufferers report that their migraines seem to occur without triggers. They may work hard to avoid triggers, but continue to suffer them. TMJ might serve as an unknown trigger.

Diagnosing Headaches

Because migraines are still incompletely understood, there are no tests available to definitively diagnose migraines. Your doctor will typically diagnose a migraine by asking you about the characteristics of your headache, possible triggers, and whether anyone in your family has been diagnosed with migraines, since migraines tend to run in families.

Man with face in hand suffering from migraine headache

Migraine Treatment

There are two types of migraine treatment, preventive or prophylactic therapy, aimed at preventing migraine attacks, and abortive therapy, intended to alleviate migraine pain when it occurs.

Preventive therapy includes:

  • Behavior modification to eliminate known triggers by modifying diet or environment, and establishing a good routine.
  • Improving physical health and emotional stability with dietary changes, exercise, stress reduction, adequate rest, and possibly counseling.
  • Taking nutritional supplements like riboflavin or co-enzyme Q-10
  • Chiropractic adjustment
  • TMJ treatment
  • Taking preventive medications such as:
    • Beta blockers
    • Calcium channel blockers
    • Aspirin
    • Antidepressants
    • Antiserotonin agents

Preventative medications are taken regularly to reduce the likelihood of an attack and cannot be used to reduce an attack once it occurs. Abortive therapy includes both non-drug and drug-based methods. Some people report good results from these non-drug treatments:

  • Putting pressure on the temples, jaw, and even massaging the base of the neck with a tennis ball
  • Lying in a dark quiet room with a cold compress on the forehead.
  • Massage or acupuncture
  • Biofeedback
  • Using visualization techniques to direct blood flow away from the head
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation during the aura phase

The drug-based treatment includes medicines such as:

  • Pain relievers, including:
    • Aspirin
    • Acetaminophen (Datril, Panadol, Tylenol)
    • Ibuprofen (Advil, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin)
    • Naproxen (Naprosyn)
    • Naproxen sodium (Anaprox)
  • Diflunisal (Dolobid)
  • Ketorolac (Toradol)
  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex) and other triptans
  • Ergotamine tartrate (Ergostat) and other ergots
  • Anti-nausea agents
  • Opioids
  • Gluticosteroid

Long-Term Migraine & Headache Relief

TMJ treatment has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of both migraines and other headaches. If you are unhappy with the results of other forms of headache treatment or have had trouble identifying and eliminating migraine triggers, you should be evaluated for TMJ.

To schedule your TMJ evaluation, please call (803) 781-9090 or email Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today.