One of the most difficult things about temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD), is getting an accurate diagnosis. That’s because the condition can cause symptoms throughout the body. Some of the symptoms might not be recognized as relating to TMJ, so they are often treated as separate conditions.
Headache is one that often escapes diagnosis. Since headaches might be primary (with no other cause), or caused by many different conditions, people with headache often get multiple diagnoses and often have to endure months or years of ineffective treatments before they find the true solution.
But now a new study helps us identify headaches that are related to TMJ. It turns out that when people with TMJ develop headaches, they are also likely to have pain elsewhere in the body, too.
Distinguishing TMJ with and without Headache
For this study, researchers looked at 295 patients who came into their orofacial pain clinic from 2013 to 2014. They found 34 patients who had TMJ plus headaches (TMJH) and 82 cases of TMJ without headaches.
They found that people who had TMJH had an average of 2 additional body pain conditions, compared to an average of 1.26 for those with TMJ but no headaches.
In addition, those with TMJH tended to have more painful sites in their head and neck (an average of 13 sites! Those without headache had an average of 8 painful sites in the head and neck). Not only that, they had more intense pain in their jaw.
Is Your Headache Related to TMJ?
So now we have even more ways to identify TMJ-related headaches. If you want to learn whether TMJ is linked to your headaches, watch out for these symptoms:
- Presence of multiple TMJ symptoms
- More intense joint pain
- Many places in the head and neck that are sensitive to touch
- Presence of pain elsewhere in the body
- Headache flares up after jaw activity
If any of these describe your headache, jaw pain, or pain elsewhere in your body, then it’s likely that your TMJ and your headaches are linked, which mean they can also get treated together.
Diagnosis Is the Hard Part
The good news is that diagnosis is the hardest part of treating TMJ. Once we have successfully diagnosed your jaw pain, we can begin to treat it. Initially, we will start with TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), a kind of gentle muscle massage that not only helps with pain, it helps us diagnose the degree of TMJ you experience. It might even be that you need nothing more than regular TENS treatments to stay pain-free. However, if that’s not the case, we can move on to other treatment options, including an orthotic and reconstructive dentistry.