TMJ Headache: Causes, Symptoms & 3 Useful Treatment


Every human has 2 Temporomandibular Joints (TMJ), one on each side of the head in front of the ears. These joints connect your jaw and your skull, providing support for the unique jaw movement needed for swallowing, talking, and yawning. It is one of the most active joints in the body. Temporomandibular Joint  (TMJ) disorder involves the joints and muscles of the jaw. It is a group of conditions that can cause mobility issues in the jaw, headache, along with pain and discomfort in the mouth, making it sometimes difficult to talk and eat.

TMJ headache is a type of head pain that results from the pain caused by tensing up the muscles of the jaw, which then spreads to the TMJ muscles along the side of your cheeks, and then reaches the top of your head, ultimately causing a TMJ headache. Headache as a symptom of TMJ disorders is caused by the swelling or inflammation in the Temporomandibular Joints which travels to other muscles and ligament tissues in the jaw area. As it spreads, muscles become tight and inflamed, causing spasms. Headaches are almost always the endpoint of TMJ disorders.


Your jaw joint shares a direct connection with your head in the form of muscles that secures your jaw to your head. These muscles are located in various parts of your face like your cheeks, jaw, and head. One of the major muscle that move your jaw is broad and fan-shaped. It covers each side of your head. Other major muscles are those found in your cheeks.

When these muscles are tensed, knotted, or damaged, due to problems in your jaw joints, they result in a headache. Any abnormal pressure or movement in your jaw can affect your TMJ muscles, which in turn then causes pain in your head.


We know that TMJ headache is often as a result of tensed or knotted muscles in the TMJ, but these are other potential causes of TMJ headache. You should also keep in mind that these are all potential causes of TMJ headache, but the exact cause is not always clear.

They include:

  • Stress
  • Pressure from teeth grinding
  • Dislocated jaw
  • Tooth and jaw misalignment
  • Arthritis
  • Infections
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Dental procedures


First of all, there are 3 main types of headache, which are;

  1. Cluster
  2. Tension
  3. Migraine

Headache due to abnormal pressure on the TMJ is dull and tight and it is different from other types of headache. For instance, it will not cause you to feel symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, which is common in migraines. And symptoms that are associated with TMJ headache do not occur in other types of headaches.

A few of those symptoms will be discussed, so you will be able to understand when your headache originates from your jaw. You could perform the ”pencil test” to help you understand if TMJ might be contributing to your headache. It is a simple and quick test. It is not foolproof but could give you a hint.
The next time you have a headache that you suspect might be associated with TMJ, gently hold a pencil between your teeth. If you feel an increase or decrease in your pain, then your headache is likely associated with TMJ.


You could have a this headache and wouldn’t know it, so you must take note of other symptoms that accompany recurring headaches. Here are some symptoms that should alert you that the headache might be related to TMJ:

  1. Restricted Jaw Movements: The average measurement of an opened mouth is 35mm, or more, but when you are unable to open your mouth as wide as 35mm, it is an indication of jaw mobility problems and this can affect the way you speak, eat, yawn or laugh.
  2. Short-Term Solution Using Regular Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers: If you are suffering from this headaches, OTC medications will not stop them from recurring. Even when you use home remedies like drinking plenty of water or using cold compressors, the effect will only be short-term.
  3. Change In Bite: This refers to the way your top and bottom teeth fit together.
  4. Neck, jaw, and facial pain
  5. A clicking noise in the jaw
  6. A ringing sound in the ears.


These headaches often occur in more than one region and can feel like a tension headache. However, if you have a it you will feel aches in your cheeks, ears, has, neck shoulder, and other parts of your face and the top of your head.


Most of the symptoms that accompany TMJ headaches are likely to clear out within 3 weeks, but sometimes what caused TMJ makes recovery time very. For instance, if you are diagnosed and it was found that the cause of your TMJ headache is underlying arthritis, or any other severe underlying condition relating to jaw movements, TMJ headache could last for months or even years in such a case, depending on the severity of the condition.


The headache may feel like any type of headache, sometimes more like a tension headache, but it tends to recur frequently in one or more places in your head and/or face. It may cause you to feel pain and tightness in your face or your jaw. When you begin to feel this way with recurring headaches, then you really should see a doctor about it.

TMJ Headache
TMJ Headache


Because of the location of TMJ, some other conditions could be mistaken for TMJ headache, for example:


Every human also has 2 trigeminal nerves that control the jaw, just like TMJ. Trigeminal neuralgia is caused when the trigeminal nerves are irritated, this causes sharp pain in the face, teeth, and around the ear, followed by numbness or tingling on one side of the face, this is why it is easy to confuse this condition with TMJ headache, but unlike it, trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by an electric shock feeling.


These 3 major common types of headache, although their symptoms differ from that of TMJ headache, it is not a big surprise that any of them could be mistaken for TMJ headache, especially since TMJ disorder itself can cause any of these headaches.


Chronic sinus problems such as sinus pain and infection can cause you to experience pain that could feel like a TMJ headache, around the temple. However, a sinus infection is characterized by fever and nasal discharge, none of which is a symptom of this headache.


The headaches can range from mild to severe. There are several conservative treatments recommended for treating it, however, more studies need to be made to establish a safe and reliable treatment plan.
Here are some recommended treatment plans:

1. Prescription Treatment

We have earlier said in this article that using over-the-counter pain relievers will only help you short-term to manage the headache because it will not stop it from recurring. So why not make a doctor’s appointment and they may be able to prescribe a more stringer medication.

Apart from medications, your doctor could suggest that you use a bite guard, something that could help you with the discomfort from it. This is a common TMJ treatment used especially if pressure teeth grinding is the cause of the headache.

2. Lifestyle Changes

Looking at the causes of TMJ headache, the tension put on the jaw could be due to some ways of life like the things you eat, how you eat, or your stress response. So changing these habits and adjusting to.

  • Avoiding hard or chew foods
  • Reducing stress to prevent habits like jaw clenching
  • Trying to stop teeth grinding

These could help manage TMJ headaches. You could also practice jaw exercises to help relieve symptoms of TMJ headache. However, both treatment options are temporary, reversible treatments and shouldn’t be seen as permanent solutions.

3. Surgical Treatment

This is more like a permanent solution to TMJ headache, using treatments such as orthodontic work to permanently change your bite and other dental works. Speak to your doctor about this if you are considering it. It may seem like a permanent solution, but these treatments are yet to be proven effective.


Migraine is primarily a neurological disorder that affects more than 30% of the world’s population. It is mostly caused by stress, be it mental, physical, or emotional stress. But for TMJ, physical stress could trigger TMJ headaches.


Headache is the common symptom of TMJ disorders and sometimes this particular type of headache could be mistaken to be either cluster, tension, or migraine headache. It is sometimes difficult to detect the cause of TMJ headache, but when you begin to have recurring headaches, be sure to be observant if they are accompanied by other symptoms such as the neck, face, or mouth pain. If you notice these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about them.

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