With tens of millions of people suffering significant headaches each year, there are many in search of the solutions that will end their pain. Some people find answers in changes to diet, posture, sleep or stress levels. But there are other people who will not find the cause of their headaches until they investigate the role their temporomandibular joint is playing in triggering it.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located right in front of your ear. It’s where the lower jaw hooks into the skull — if you place your fingers right in front of your ear and open and shut your mouth widely, you will feel that joint at work. This joint is one of the most-often moved joints in your whole body. When the TMJ has a problem that causes pain or improper function, it is referred to as a temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD.
Signs of TMD include:
• Pain in the face, jaw, ears or neck
• Pain and pressure behind the eyes
• Inability to fully open or close the jaw
• Painful clicking or popping in the joint when opening or closing the mouth
• Change in the way the upper and lower teeth meet
• Locking or dislocating jaw
• Soreness of jaw muscles
TMD and Headaches
When there is excessive pressure on the joints of your jaw, muscles can stay in a constant state of tension, resulting in cramps in muscles of the face, neck or shoulders and that can trigger a headache. To make matters more complicated, a headache from TMD can mimic a migraine, cluster headache, sinus headache or tension headache. It can be difficult to get a correct diagnosis for the cause of a headache when its source is TMD because it is not where most clinicians look first. It may require ruling out other possible causes of headaches before determining that the cause is TMD.
How is TMD Treated?
Most cases of TMD do not require surgery. Your doctor may recommend eating softer foods or wearing a “splint” — a guard to keep you from grinding your teeth. Other measures that may be recommended:
• Over-the-counter pain relievers or muscle relaxants
• Relaxation techniques to alleviate stress in the jaw
• Ice packs
• Avoiding extreme movements of the jaw such as yawning or chewing gum
• Jaw-stretching exercises
But there are some circumstances when only surgery will relieve TMD.
When Surgery is Recommended for TMD
When other measures do not improve TMD symptoms, then more in-depth diagnostic steps are needed. Imaging may be required to detect damage or arthritis in the TMJ. There are several different surgical approaches to treating TMD, including irrigating the joint itself to remove debris and reduce inflammation or surgery to repair damage from arthritis, similar to the surgery people receive on their knees. Also, there is a small pad of cartilage providing a cushion between the jawbone and the skull and this cartilage may need to be surgically adjusted or repaired.
When earlier measures have not alleviated TMD, contact Capital Oral & Facial Surgery Center for a free consultation. Dr. Virginia Lee has two decades of experience performing the most delicate surgeries of the face, mouth and head. Her extensive training as a Doctor of Dental Medicine and then as an oral and facial surgeon has prepared her to provide you with the very best care. From the moment you arrive at the practice, the facilities, staff training and doctor’s approach to your case are all designed to reassure you that your best solution to pain or illness is at hand. Call Capital Oral & Facial Surgery Center at 202-350-2268 to schedule your consultation.