Can TMJ Cause Migraines? | It’s About Nerve and Pressure!
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
October 20, 2023

Can TMJ Cause Migraines?

Yes, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ/TMD) is characterized by frequent jaw pain and migraines.

The headache or migraine is actually referred pain from your overly strained temporalis muscle that is on each side of your head. 

Next time you clench your teeth or chew something, look at yourself in the mirror – see that area contracting on the side of your temple?

That is your temporalis muscle – one of the muscles of mastication (chewing).

Temporomandibular joint dysfunction can be difficult to diagnose without considering additional symptoms, as numerous things can cause and worsen headaches or migraines.

Before we get into the details, we need to understand some basic concepts about TMJ-associated headaches.

Let’s begin.

Migraine headaches are a common, painful condition.

The cause of migraine pain is often unknown, but they’re thought to result from abnormal brain activity triggered by certain physical and emotional factors.

TMJ disorder is a condition that affects the joints connecting your jawbone to your skull.

It can also cause facial pain and other symptoms, including headaches that resemble tension headaches or migraines.

In some cases, these two conditions overlap: People who suffer from migraines may also have TMJ-related symptoms that worsen their migraine attacks or vice versa

Several other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms and confuse the dentist and the patient.

For example, the following types of neuralgia can cause pain in the facial area that can mimic TMJ migraine:


  • Post-herpetic (shingles complication)
  • Glossopharyngeal (tongue, throat, ear pain)
  • Trigeminal (trigeminal nerve injury)


In addition, sinusitis, salivary gland disorders, and carotidynia can also cause pain in this area.

So, how can you know if you have TMJ-related headache pain? Read on to find out…

What Causes TMJ headaches: Temporomandibular joint disorders

Temporomandibular disorders can be the root cause and lead to TMJ headaches and migraines.

The following issues can contribute to the development of TMJ disorders:

  • Clenching and grinding teeth at night (Bruxism)
  • Chewing gum excessively
  • Misaligned jaw at birth
  • Damage to the joint caused by arthritis
  • Physical blow or impact to the area
  • Jaw dislocation
  • Upper and lower jaw not properly aligned (malocclusion)


TMJ Symptoms


  1. Facial, head, or jaw pain
  2. Pain that spreads to the neck, shoulders, and back
  3. Pain that is aggravated by chewing or moving your jaw
  4. Tight facial or jaw muscles (may be present at rest)
  5. Clicking sound in your jaw joint
  6. Upper and lower teeth don’t fit together correctly anymore
  7. Numbness or tingling in your arms
  8. Ringing in your ears or hearing loss
  9. Sensitive or loose teeth
  10. Difficulty chewing or opening and closing your mouth


TMJ Diagnosis

Your doctor, headache specialist, regular dentist, neuromuscular dentist (a dentist specializing in the alignment of the jaw), or physiotherapist can diagnose you with TMJ disorder.

Diagnosis consists of a thorough physical assessment and imaging studies.

Your healthcare provider will look at your jaw’s range of motion and assess you for pain and tenderness in the jaw and surrounding areas.

They may also order X-rays, CT, or MRI scans to get a more detailed view to support their diagnosis.


TMJ Treatment

TMJ treatment options depend on the frequency and severity of the TMJ migraine headaches.

TMJ sufferers can participate in various treatment modalities, from simple exercises and conservative measures at home to undergoing surgery to correct underlying physical or structural problems.

Fortunately, almost all TMJ headaches or migraines can be successfully treated with simple, conservative management.

There are many effective ways to treat TMJ-associated migraine headaches.

Specifically, eating a soft-food diet helps to lessen the frequency of chewing, allowing your strained joint to rest and recover.

Additionally, jaw mobility exercises help to stretch the soft tissue around the TMJ, allowing for a quicker recovery.

Applying cold or warm compresses to the affected area can help calm the aggravated tissue and joint as well.

Many people who have TMJ-associated headaches are found to grind and clench their teeth at night, resulting in inflammation and stress to the TMJ.

Your dentist can quickly determine if you are clenching your teeth at night by looking for wear and tear on your teeth and gums.

If so, they can get you fitted for a mouth guard to protect you throughout the night.

Allowing your joint to rest by ensuring that your jaw movement is always within a comfortable range also helps with recovery.

Physical therapy can also help alleviate pain and improve movement.

Your provider may also prescribe NSAIDs and other prescription medication for severe pain relief.

For structural jaw misalignment issues, some people may need surgery to correct the problem.

This is usually a treatment plan of last resort.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, the headache should resolve within three months of treatment and should not recur.


Various lifestyle and medical issues can contribute to the development of temporomandibular joint dysfunction, leading to headaches or migraines.

Examples are clenching and grinding your teeth at night, chewing gum excessively, or having structural damage or misalignment to the jaw.

Some common symptoms of TMJ disorders include facial or jaw pain, pain aggravated by chewing or moving your jaw, tight facial or jaw muscles, and the tell-tale clicking or popping sound in the jaw joint.

Diagnosis of TMJ dysfunction is typically done by a dentist, doctor, or physical therapist, and consists of a combination of a physical assessment and possibly imaging with X-rays, CT, and MRI scans.

Treatment of TMJ depends on the severity of the pain and varies between people.

Most TMJ sufferers recover with simple management.

The following are the most effective ways to treat and prevent TMJ-related headaches:

  • Soft-food diet (to lessen chewing)
  • Jaw mobility exercises (Highly effective stretching exercises)
  • Heat or cold compresses
  • Mouth night guard (also called a splint – to protect from teeth grinding)
  • Joint rest (restricting jaw movement to a comfortable range)
  • Physical therapy
  • NSAIDs, prescription, and over-the-counter medications to reduce TMJ pain
  • Surgery (only as last resort)

If you suspect you have TMJ-associated headaches or migraines, please see your dentist for a proper assessment and possible diagnosis. Help is available!

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