Normal Headache Or TMD: What Is a TMJ Headache? - City of Oaks

Normal Headache Or TMD: What Is a TMJ Headache?

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TMJ Headaches vs. Migraines

TMJ headaches are a typical symptom of TMD (temporomandibular disorders). The terms "TMD" and "TMJ" are often used interchangeably, but "TMJ" refers to the muscle in your face, and TMD is a common disorder that can cause jaw pain, headaches, and more.

If you start to experience headaches, it can be hard to determine the cause. Stress, migraines, dehydration, or TMD can all be suspects.

Tight, dull headaches are the most common pain we see with TMJ issues. TMJ headaches can be concentrated on one or both sides of your face. Usually, patients will see greater pain on the side where the TMJ is (but tension from this can affect your whole head).

Migraines, on the other hand, are typically more severe. If you find your headaches are affecting your vision, preventing you from sleeping, or any comfort, a migraine might be the culprit. TMJ issues can impact the frequency and severity of migraines, but they are not a typical side effect of TMD.

TMJ headaches are caused by the irritation and inflammation of the muscles and tissues around your jaw. They are frequently accompanied by other symptoms such as jaw pain, clicking, or even facial spasms.TMJ issues can also cause asymmetry due to muscle tension, which can negatively impact your bite. 

Regardless, headaches are a prevalent symptom of TMJ diseases and are frequently the driving force behind seeking treatment. If you’re noticing the onset of jaw pain, it’s best to check in with your dentist.


The cause of TMD is different for every patient affected. It can be as simple as chronic tooth grinding. Any overwork of your jaw muscles can trigger unwanted side effects. 

The TMJ muscles that run along your cheek and jaw can tense up, become inflamed and cause headaches. This discomfort can spread to the tops and sides of your head.

Frequently, stress can trigger the habits that can cause TMD, such as tension and grinding. TMJ pain is one of the most common dental issues seen in the office today.

There are no exact statistics on the frequency of TMJ headaches because it can be difficult to determine if that is the root cause. The good news? If your headaches are becoming worse due to a TMJ disorder, your dental office can help!


As mentioned previously, a TMJ headache is often less severe than chronic headaches or migraines. TMJ headaches are usually accompanied by these symptoms:

  • tense muscles in the face or jaw
  • Facial pain
  • Clicking when eating
  • a shift in bite

The tension and pain associated with TMJ headaches are why they are commonly confused with tension headaches.

Most TMJ symptoms can be treated with lifestyle changes.

How to Treat a TMJ Headache

You might try to first treat your headache with OTC pain relievers such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen. 

If your headaches are more severe and not easily managed with medication, make an appointment with your dentist. There are a few practices that are commonly used to treat TMJ pain and prevent TMD. However, if needed, surgery or more invasive treatments are an option to cure chronic pain and dental issues.

If you have TMJ headaches while reading this article and are looking for an alternative to pain medicine, consult your dentist! Buying quick fixes such as mouth guards can make your condition worse and cost more money to treat down the road.

Pain Management and Prevention

Splints and night guards are both designed to fix current pain and prevent any worsening symptoms.

Splints may remind you of retainers or clear aligners. They are custom designed to provide needed support and stabilize your jaw. They should be worn for a specific amount of time determined by your dentist, and are traditionally for those that have TMJ headaches associated with bigger issues from TMD.

Night guards are often recommended as a preventative measure for those who have just started to experience TMJ headaches. These traditionally provide the needed support to stop the jaw tension that results in headaches. They are custom fit to your bite and should be worn while sleeping. They prevent issues and pain that come with teeth grinding and clenching. 

Dental Botox

If a splint or night guard is not an option for you, or you’ve tried them to no avail, botox may be a solution. This type of treatment is not what is normally associated with botox—you won't see a change in facial structure or wrinkles. The placement of botox is in the TMJ muscle at a low dose to prevent severe clenching. This procedure is becoming more and more common with those that have chronic TMJ pain.

Surgical treatments

If TMJ headaches are one of many symptoms of a bigger TMJ issue, surgery might be needed. More often than not, TMJ pain can be resolved with minor treatments and lifestyle changes. If surgery cannot be avoided, orthodontics and surgical treatments together can modify your bite and fix TMD pain.

To treat TMD, see your dentist.

If you are affected by TMJ headaches, schedule a check-up visit with us to alleviate your pain!

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