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Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Headaches and what you can do about them.

Updated on February 5, 2010

The Temporo-Mandibular Joint, better known as TMJ, is actually a complex joint that connects your skull to your jawbone.  This joint is comprised of the two bones, a cartilage disk and several ligaments.  Just like any ligament, if any of these ligaments are injured it can result in severe TMJ pain and headaches. 

The problem is there are a ton of ways that these ligaments can be hurt.  There’s the obvious way of suffering a physical contusion, for which case you’ll normally be checked out by a doctor or specialist and they’ll have a solid game plan for treating the TMJ.  However, most cases of TMJ sneak up on you and are a result of something subtle but chronic that occurs over time. 

Another cause of TMJ is overnight teeth grinding and jaw clenching.  If you grind your teeth overnight you probably don’t know it.  The only way you find out is that you wake up one morning and your jaw hurts or you have a major headache.  What makes it even more difficult to diagnose is that these headaches can occur midway through the day, not necessarily when you just wake up. 

If you’re unsure if your headaches are related to jaw clenching or teeth grinding, you should look around online for additional resources.  Your headaches may be due to other conditions such as migranes, temporal tendinitis, Ernest syndrome, certain types of neuralgia (occipital or trigeminal), or even Neuralgia Inducing Cavitational Osteonecrosis (NICO).  There are a lot of good resources online that can describe the differences and help you to diagnose your particular condition.  That being said, it’s important to see a doctor to get a professional opinion and more certain treatment options.

Now if you see your doctor for jaw pain or headache, you’ll normally be referred to a specialist who will be able to diagnose and provide treatments for TMJ.  The most common treatment is a specialized mouth guard that has a spacer built into the front.  This TMJ mouth guard separates your teeth and keeps them from grinding as well as maintains your jaw in a relaxed position and keeps it from clenching up.  This clenching of the jaw can damage the ligaments in your temporo-mandibular joint and result in TMJ headaches.  If you choose to go with a mouth guard, you should definitely get the specialized mouth guard and skip the $40 Wal*Mart variety.  While the specialized mouth guard is much more expensive, it is custom molded to your mouth and provides the correct amount of spacing to make sure that your jaw is properly aligned all night long. 

If you have or suspect you have TMJ jaw pain, you should try and eliminate all chewy foods from your diet.  These can include things like bagels, granola, tough cuts of meat.  Chewing these types of food can aggravate the temporo-mandibular joint and make the condition worse.  Also avoid eating foods that would require your jaw to open widely.  This really stresses the joint and it may result in a popping or clicking jaw.

There are a lot of great resources available online for helping you diagnose your condition.  If you have been confirmed as having TMJ, you should be able to find suggestions on alleviating the pain.  Just remember that most TMJ remedies take time to work.  Just like TMJ problems don’t happen overnight, they don’t go away overnight either.

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    • lovelypaper profile image

      Renee S 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent information. I believe the trigeminal neuralgia is common for MS sufferers. Thanks for the great info.

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