Headaches are a common condition that can make life miserable. They can be caused by a variety of factors, including alcohol, bad posture, and stress. They can also be caused by TMJ disorders, which is known as a TMJ headache.

In this article, we explore the definition of a TMJ headache, common symptoms, how to diagnose one, and suggest some treatment options that will give you some relief.

What is a TMJ headache?

A TMJ headache is face, cheek, and head pain caused by a TMJ disorder. This disorder causes pain in the temporomandibular joint—the joint that connects the jaw to the skull—which spreads upwards to other areas of the head.

  • Someone suffering from a TMJ headache may also have the following symptoms:
  • Pain is commonly in the ear area, the temples, or over your eyes
  • Pain or difficulty chewing food. This includes more severe head pain when chewing
  • Unable to open their mouth fully
  • Jaw clicking or popping sounds when moving the jaw
  • Sore TMJ (jaw) hinges
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • A swollen face
  • Sensitive teeth, but no obvious dental problems
  • Experience migraines

TMJ disorders (which leads to TMJ headaches) can be caused by a variety of issues, including:

  • Misalignment of the upper and lower jaw (malocclusion)
  • Bruxism (excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching)
  • Dislocation of the jaw joint
  • Excessive gum chewing
  • The joint being damaged by injury such as a blow or other impact
  • Damage or displacement of the meniscus disc
  • Connective tissue disorders that affect the temporomandibular joint
  • Malformation of the TMJ anatomy from birth
  • The joint’s cartilage lining being damaged by arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory arthritis

How to diagnose a TMJ headache

TMJ headaches can be diagnosed by dentists, doctors, or physiotherapists. They may assess your jaw’s range of motion, the surrounding areas of your jaw, and whether you have tenderness or pain in certain areas of your face. They might also complete a panoramic X-ray to assess your jaw and teeth, a CT scan to give a more detailed view, or an MRI to assess the soft tissues surrounding your jaw.

How to stop a TMJ headache | Treatments

The recommended treatment for TMJ headaches will depend on the severity of the TMJ disorder. They can range from simple exercises to complete at home, to surgery that fixes the physical issue causing the disorder. But thankfully, about 95% of TMJ disorders can be treated with simple self-management.

These are the most effective ways to treat TMJ disorders, which will help to prevent TMJ headaches:

  • TMJ exercises for jaw pain—simple stretching exercises can help to relieve TMJ headaches substantially.
  • Joint rest—restricting your jaw movements to a range that is comfortable. This includes opening your mouth and moving your jaw from side to side. Also keeping your teeth apart when at rest.
  • Heat or cold packs—applied directly to the painful areas.
  • TMJ physiotherapy—including acupuncture, relaxation exercises, posture improvement, neck treatment,
  • TMJ joint mobilisation, TMJ movement pattern, timing correction, and TMJ stabilisation exercises.
  • A soft-food diet—eating a softened (or even pureed) diet that doesn’t worsen your jaw pain.
  • Medication to relieve jaw pain—including muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or certain medications used to treat depression.
  • Occlusal splint or mouth guard—to minimise jaw clenching or teeth grinding, especially at night.
  • Surgery for TMJ—a rare treatment option to fix the TMJ disorder.