TMJ – Headaches
Q: I have been suffering from headaches for years. One of my friends told me I might have TMJ. What is TMJ?
A: TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint. It’s the jaw joint that lies just in front of your ear.
TMD is the term that refers to disorders of the temporomandibular joint and surrounding structures. Many persons are not aware of this and refer to their problem as TMJ.
These disorders are a very misunderstood area of medicine. Unfortunately, many patients are often times misdiagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Trigeminal neuralgia, difficult headache patients or sinus sufferers.
In order to determine if the problem is indeed coming from the jaw joint a series of diagnostic test must be performed. These simple screening tests for TMJ pain are similar to what your physician would order if you were experiencing hip or knee pain.
They involve taking a CAT scan, diagnostic casts of the teeth and occasionally an MRI. The ligaments, bone meniscus and all surrounding structures of the joint are evaluated to see where the pain is coming from.
Most offices which regularly treat this disorder should be able to perform all tests in the office with the exception of the MRI.
Headaches and facial pain can be caused by the joint directly and/or exacerbated by muscle tension from an occlusal or bite problem. Many patients who have a long history of headaches, facial pain, difficulty opening or closing, sinus pain or upper neck pain have some type of TMJ disorder.
For example, it is common for us to see a new patient who has blamed their 15 year history of headaches on their sinuses. If this were truly the case then antibiotics or sinus surgery would have eliminated the problem.
It is especially important that anyone with unresolved headaches or facial pain select a dentist with knowledge and experience in the treatment of these disorders. This aspect of dentistry, while not a specialty, requires extensive post-doctoral training.
Over the past 15 years we have learned a tremendous amount about the nature and progression of this disease allowing us an extremely high success rate in the treatment of these disorders. One thing we have learned is that most patients can have relief without surgery. The days of just medicating the headaches away or wearing a mouthguard are over.
In fact, mouth guards can actually cause patients with TMJ disorder to worsen.