Rochester Dentist Discusses TMJ Disorder and Headaches

Woman with HeadacheHeadaches and migraines are a common part of everyday life. There are numerous causes for both, ranging from stress to a collection of serious neurological conditions. In some cases, dental occlusion is a contributor. TMJ disorder, or temporomandibular joint disorder, can cause severe and debilitating headaches patients often describe as similar to migraines. Symptoms include not only headaches, but also tooth grinding; facial, ear, and neck pain; clicking and popping sounds when opening the jaw; locking of the jaw; tooth wear; and stiff or painful jaw muscles.

What Causes TMJ Disorder

TMJ disorder occurs when the temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, no longer function properly. The TMJs connects your jaw to your skull and resemble a simple ball and socket joint. The head of your jawbone, or the condyle, rests in a socket of your skull, called the glenoid fossa.  A small disc of cartilage acts as a cushion between the two parts. Muscles and ligaments hold the discs in place and guide their function. The joints and discs allow your lower jaw to open and close comfortably.

You have two of these joints, one on either side of your jaw. If your bite does not align properly, you can develop problems in either one or both of your TMJs. Problems such as a deep overbite, a narrow upper jaw, or upper front teeth that are crooked and tipped backwards can cause your jaw to dislocate. This pushes the lower condyle back, and it places pressure on the blood vessels and nerves at the back of the socket — this can cause pain and discomfort. If the protective disc between the condyle and glenoid fossa displaces, the patient may develope osteoarthritis as the ball and socket rub against each other without a buffer.

TMJ Related Headaches

A patient who suffers from TMJ disorder may complain of severe headaches. These headaches occur because the misalignment of the jaw affects one of the most powerful nerves in the human body. The trigeminal nerve controls the TMJ and parts of the face, head, shoulders, and arms. This nerve is so important, in fact, the brain allots 40 percent of its processing to its function.

Headaches associated with TMJ disorder can manifest in different ways. Some may be sharp and searing, while others may be dull and more constant. Patients will typically feel pain right over the joint, but it can sometimes travel elsewhere to parts of the body associated with the trigeminal nerve. This may even include the hands and fingers. Sometimes, TMJ disorder will cause spasms in various muscles in these areas.

Patients unaware they have TMJ disorder may see a doctor and receive medication for symptoms, without ever receiving treatment for the cause of the pain. Headaches and migraines are signs that something is wrong in your body, and you should seek treatment for so that you can enjoy true, long-lasting relief.

Schedule an Appointment

If you experience headaches or any of the other symptoms associated with TMJ disorder, please make an appointment with Dr. Calcagno at Calcagno Family & Cosmetic Dentistry. Call (507) 281-3659 to schedule a consultation. We serve patients from Rochester, Red Wing, St. Charles, Winona, Farmington, and the surrounding communities.