Headaches are one of the more common medical complaints people have. Headaches can range from annoying to debilitating. Another problem with headaches is that they can be chronic, returning day after day. Despite their frequency, it can be very hard to track down the cause of headaches.
If you have been to one or more doctors to seek help with your headaches, but have been able to get a true diagnosis and successful headache treatment, perhaps you need to go in a different direction. Perhaps you need a dentist.
Where you feel the pain is not necessarily the source of the pain. Your headaches could actually be caused by your teeth and jaw. If you have a cavity, the pain could lead to stress that becomes a headache. In addition, your dental pain could be trigger for headaches, especially migraine headaches.
Another common cause of headaches is temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
What Is TMJ?
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is a neuromuscular jaw condition caused by an imbalanced bite. The temporomandibular joints are located on either side of your skull, where the lower jaw attaches to the skull.
This joint has to be flexible to perform its role in eating, speaking, and breathing, but also has to be strong enough to perform those roles and to support itself constantly. You may not be aware of it, but your jaw is constantly working, even while you sleep. When your joint is out of order, it can lead to a number of problems.
Some of the more common problems relate to the joint’s proximity to nerves, muscles, and blood vessels involved in supporting and supplying the head. When you suffer from TMJ, the jaw joint can put pressure on these nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, which can lead to facial pain and headaches.
TMJ and headaches
When TMJ causes pressure to be put on the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels that pass nearby it, the result can be headaches.
The trigeminal nerve passes very near the temporomandibular joint. This nerve controls messages that pass between the brain and the face, including pain signals.
When pressure is put on the trigeminal nerve, the result can be spasms, pressure, or pain in the face or behind the eyes. This can cause inflammatory reactions and contribute to ‘sinus’ headaches.
When you are suffering from TMJ, the muscles of the head and neck may have to work harder to keep your head balanced and to perform the normal functions of speaking, breathing, and chewing. This can cause tension all around the head and in the upper neck, which can lead to chronic tension headaches.
Migrains are among the most intense headaches, and TMJ can serve as a chronic migraine trigger. When TMJ leads to irritation of the trigeminal nerve, it can cause the release of a number of chemicals in the brain that eventually lead to a migraine. Migraines can also occur if you are experiencing reduced flow of blood in the brain due to pressure of blood vessels.
How a dentist treats TMJ
Not just any dentist can help you with TMJ treatment. Dentists trained in handling TMJ are known as neuromuscular dentists. These dentists can study the mouth system as a whole and maneuver your jaw joint back into place where it can function harmoniously, without interfering with adjacent systems.