Your Headache May be TMJ

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is the second most common cause of chronic pain. It makes it hard, sometimes even impossible, to eat and talk, and often causes headaches.

When your TMJ is mistaken for a headache, you’ll keep trying to treat a headache. You may get temporary relief, but your pain will return because the real source of the problem isn’t addressed.

Here at Farhoumand Dentistry in Vienna, Virginia, we have years of experience getting to the bottom of your pain and helping you finally find relief from TMJ.

What you need to know about TMJ

You have two temporomandibular joints, one on either side of your head in front of your ears. These joints connect your jaw to your skull and support the unique jaw movement that’s needed for swallowing, talking, and yawning.

TMJ disorders cause significant pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles controlling the joint’s movement. The problem is often caused by:

  • Misaligned jaw due to dental misalignment
  • Wear-and-tear damage to cartilage (arthritis in the jaw joint)
  • Injury or trauma to bones in the joint
  • Overuse injury to muscles
  • Pressure from teeth grinding
  • Damage due to a jaw injury
  • Muscle Knots

All of these issues lead to inflammation or pain in the temporomandibular joint that makes it hard for your jawbone to move normally.

Close association between TMJ and headaches

The jaw pain caused by TMJ is often mistaken for tension or a migraine headache. In fact, one study found that headaches caused by TMJ were misdiagnosed as tension headaches in 31% of the patients included in the research.

Why are the two so easy to confuse? Because the jaw joint shares a direct connection with your head in the form of muscles.

One of the primary muscles that move your jaw is a broad, fan-shaped muscle that covers each side of your head. Other muscles associated with the temporomandibular joint are located in your cheeks.

When these muscles become tense, knotted, or damaged due to problems with your jaw joints, they place significant stress on your head, leading to headaches.

The way your teeth meet when you bite down also influences TMJ and its associated headaches. When you have misaligned teeth that cause an uneven bite, stress is placed on the jaw. Sometimes the stress is enough to force the joints out of alignment.

This abnormal pressure and movement in your jaw joint affect muscles, which end up causing pain in your head.

Differences between TMJ and headaches

A few signs can alert you to the fact that your headache originates in your jaw rather than being a true headache.

For starters, pain that originates in your jaw will not cause symptoms that accompany migraine headaches, like nausea and sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells.

Symptoms that are unique to TMJ and don’t occur when your pain is a true headache include:

  • Painless clicking or popping when opening your mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Pain when chewing
  • Earaches
  • Locked jaw (difficult or impossible to open or close your mouth)
  • Pain or tenderness in your jaw or temporomandibular joint

When you experience persistent pain or your jaw locks, it’s time to let the team at Farhoumand Dentistry give you a thorough exam and determine the underlying cause of your pain.

Getting proper treatment for TMJ

At Farhoumand Dentistry, your treatment is always customized depending on the cause of your TMJ and the severity of your symptoms.

Lifestyle changes may be enough to relax your muscles and relieve symptoms. For example, we may teach you how to stretch and massage your muscles and help you identify movement or activities that aggravate the problem, like chewing gum.

We recognize that reducing daily stress is easier said than done, but it’s an important part of treatment for our patients who are so stressed that they constantly clench their teeth.

Your TMJ may need to be treated with an oral appliance. You’ll wear the device like a mouth guard while you sleep. It prevents teeth grinding if that’s the cause of your TMJ pain, but oral appliances are also used to gently reposition a misaligned jaw.

In some cases, we can realign your jaw using Invisalign® clear aligners to straighten misaligned teeth. When all conservative treatments fail, you may need to consider oral surgery to remove excess joint fluid or to repair a damaged or degenerated joint.

You don’t need to continue suffering from jaw, face, or head pain. Call Farhoumand Dentistry or book an appointment online so we can find the treatment you need to alleviate your pain.


You deserve an exceptional dental experience. Call (703) 636-2442 or click below to set up your first visit. We look forward to meeting you!

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