Q: Could TMJ cause migraines?
A: TMJ is shorthand for temporomandibular joint, the ball-and-socket joint that connects the jaw to the skull just in front of the ear. Some people use the term TMJ to describe pain that comes from this joint, although doctors and dentists are now more likely to use the abbreviation TMD (for temporomandibular disorder, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction).
TMD appears to be caused by a variety of different problems, including arthritis, trauma to the jaw, muscle spasms from jaw clenching or stress, poor alignment of the teeth, and nighttime grinding of the teeth (bruxism).
TMD can produce many symptoms, including:
Pain or tenderness over the joint, especially when chewing, speaking, or opening the mouth wide
Clicking, popping, or cracking sounds when you chew or move the jaw
A sense that the teeth aren't in alignment
The sensation that the jaw cannot move, open, or shut
However, headaches also can be a major symptom of TMD. Often the headaches start at the jaw or TMJ, then spread over the top of the head. In a person prone to migraines, pain from TMD can trigger a typical migraine headache.
People suffering from this condition should see their doctor or dentist. Changes in diet and chewing habits, treatment of stress, correction of dental problems, and use of pain relievers and muscle relaxants can all be helpful.
James S. Winshall, M.D., is an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. In addition to his role as senior editor at Harvard Health Publications, Dr. Winshall practices general internal medicine and is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
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