Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a group of conditions that may cause headaches. There is also evidence showing that headaches can cause symptoms that affect the TMJ.

TMJ disorders involve the joints and muscles of the jaw. These conditions can cause mobility issues in the jaw, along with pain or discomfort in the mouth and face.

Some people with TMJ disorders experience headaches as a symptom. In other people, headaches might cause TMJ symptoms.

This article discusses the relationship between TMJ disorders and headaches and lists some of the treatment options.

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There appears to be a relationship between TMJ disorders and headaches. For example, a 2015 study found that headaches were one of the primary symptoms of these conditions.

However, according to a 2017 study, the relationship between headaches and TMJ disorders can go both ways. The authors note that a headache may intensify TMJ pain for some individuals, whereas, for others, TMJ pain may cause a headache.

The American Migraine Foundation reports similar findings. It states that a headache may result from a TMJ disorder and that a headache can cause pain in the TMJ or the supporting muscles.

In a 2019 study, researchers found that painful TMJ disorders caused people to experience more frequent headaches. They also found that treating both conditions is the most effective way to reduce the symptoms.

Other 2019 research had different results, though, finding no association between headaches and TMJ disorders. The authors conclude that more studies are necessary to determine the relationship between the two.

The symptoms of TMJ disorders may come and go. A person can also experience TMJ symptoms without having the condition.

According to research in 2015, TMJ disorders are associated with:

  • jaw pain
  • difficulty opening and closing the jaw
  • pain when chewing
  • earaches
  • headaches
  • pain in the face

However, these symptoms can also occur due to other conditions and injuries, such as an ear infection or blow to the face.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) adds that other symptoms of TMJ disorders can include:

  • stiffness in the jaw muscle
  • radiating pain in the jaw, neck, or face
  • a change in how the lower and upper teeth fit together
  • reduced movement in the jaw
  • locking jaw
  • grating, popping, or clicking in the jaw when closing or opening the mouth

The TMJ Association notes that some people with a TMJ disorder may also experience:

  • vision trouble
  • jaw muscle stiffness
  • dizziness
  • a bite that does not feel aligned

There are several potential causes of TMJ disorders. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that these include:

  • stress
  • teeth grinding
  • dislocation of the jaw
  • injury
  • tooth and jaw misalignment
  • arthritis

The TMJ Association notes some other possible causes, including:

  • the insertion of a breathing tube for surgery
  • dental procedures
  • infections
  • autoimmune disorders

The exact causes of TMJ disorders are not always clear.

TMJ pain can range from mild to severe. The NIDCR recommends that doctors use conservative, noninvasive treatments for most cases of TMJ disorders.

Its recommendations include:

Some at-home therapies may also help relieve symptoms. The ADA states that people can use the following strategies at home:

  • eating softer foods
  • avoiding chewing gum and biting the fingernails
  • performing exercises to strengthen or stretch the jaw
  • practicing relaxation techniques
  • using heat packs

It adds that muscle relaxants are another option for more severe cases.

Doctors typically view surgery as a last resort option, reserving it for people living with severe TMJ symptoms.

Surgical procedures for TMJ disorders range from less invasive techniques that clean or adjust the joints in the jaw to full open joint surgery or joint replacement.

The NIDCR warns that surgery is not always the best solution for TMJ disorders because it can cause permanent damage. Other possible complications include the replacement joints breaking down or not working properly.

Anyone experiencing TMJ symptoms or frequent headaches should talk with a doctor. A doctor may determine that a TMJ disorder is responsible for the headaches or other pain in and around the jaw.

It is also important to speak with a doctor if symptoms persist after treatment. The doctor may be able to recommend additional therapies to manage the pain more effectively.

Headaches can be a symptom of TMJ disorders, but they can also cause symptoms that affect the TMJ. The relationship between TMJ disorders and headaches may go both ways, but more research is necessary to understand it further.

In addition to headaches, a person with a TMJ disorder may experience jaw stiffness or pain. The treatment approach is typically conservative, involving pain relievers, exercises, and heat packs.