Waking Up With Headaches? It Could Be TMJ

If you’re waking up each morning with a headache, you’re probably wondering why. In some cases it could be the way you’re sleeping; in others, the pain could be traveling up from tight neck or shoulder muscles. Or, possibly, it could be coming from a completely different place — your temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the jaw joint that connects to your skull and allows you to do such things as open and close your mouth and eat.

At the dental office of Dr. Kiran Rapal in Saratoga, California, we offer on-site diagnostic resources such as digital X-rays that allow us to evaluate the health of your jaw. In addition, we provide customized treatment options for your TMJ pain that will also relieve your persistent headaches. Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between TMJ issues and headaches.

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) 101

TMJ pain is said to occur in about 10% of the US population, and TMDs have been reported in  nearly 50%, with women being more susceptible than men. The various disorders that make up TMD are treatable, but since there are many potential causes, diagnosis may be a bit difficult.

While doctors and dentists don’t always know what causes a TMJ disorder, some common causes include:

Common symptoms of TMDs include:

The relationship between TMDs and headaches

While morning headaches may be just one symptom of TMDs, they can be persistent. Of the many potential causes, bruxism is probably the most significant. Most people clench or grind their teeth while they’re asleep, and these actions tighten your jaw muscles, stressing the TMJ and causing wear-and-tear damage. The resulting jaw pain then refers to other places, including the skull, where it can cause anything from mild headaches to disabling migraines.

The International Headache Society has developed criteria for headache specialists to use when diagnosing TMDs and related headaches. The criteria to determine an association are:

Treating TMD-related headaches

If your dentist determines that bruxism is the primary cause of your morning headaches — there will be telltale wear on your teeth — there’s a relatively easy solution: an occlusal splint, also called a mouthguard. This is a soft, custom-made plastic device you wear over your teeth when you sleep to prevent you from clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, thus relaxing the TM joint.

Other standard TMD treatments can also be effective. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can relieve your discomfort. If these don’t work, Dr. Rapal may prescribe a muscle relaxer or short-term steroid to help the jaw relax.

Physical therapy is also a possibility. You’ll learn exercises that help stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles, as well as how to massage the joint muscles for relief. Moist heat, ice, and ultrasound treatments can help as well.

Patient education and counseling can help you better understand the factors and behaviors that aggravate your pain, so you can learn to avoid them. You may need to adapt to eating soft foods, using ice to reduce swelling, and actively pursuing ways to relieve your stress.

If you’re waking up every morning with a headache and also have jaw pain, it’s a good bet you have a TMD. Give Dr. Rapal a call today at 408-864-7010 to get a firm diagnosis and effective treatment, or schedule your consultation online. The sooner you get help, the sooner your pain will go away.

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