Oh, the common stress headache! We all know the familiar sensation of stretching yourself too thin, on too little sleep, often drinking too little water and too much coffee or soda. Often our most stressful times land us with a “stress headache.” Of course, the irony is that those headaches are often caused by lack of sleep, dehydration, poor diet, and other ways we ignore our bodies needs when we are under great stress. |
There are other headaches we should be on the lookout for, however. TMJ disorder (dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint) can cause pain in the face, jaw, head, and neck. To cloud the waters even further, TMJ problems can be initiated and exacerbated by stress. Do you ever chew gum when you are stressed? Gnash your teeth? Chew on pens? Crunch hard snacks that keep your jaw moving constantly? This can be a common reaction to stress, and, if your jaw joints aren’t functioning optimally to begin with, it can cause terrible pain.
When the average layperson hears TMJ disorder, we usually think of popping or clicking sounds in the jaw. But not every TMJ patient will experience this. You may feel resistance or pressure when you try to open the jaw, or the feeling of something shifting. The fact is: our jaw joints are composed of several small moving parts that need to fit together precisely right to open and close the mouth. Poor alignment of the joints can lead to joint deterioration or damage to the cartilage, bone, tendons, or discs. Improper function can lead to muscle fatigue in the jaw and face. Those muscles may have to work overtime to help you chew and speak properly, and this can lead to chronic tension and pain.
The tricky thing about TMJ disorder is that not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and not every case will be treated the same way. There are a wide range of physical sensations you might experience if your jaw is not functioning properly. - Pain in the jaw joint
- Pain when you chew
- Inability to open your mouth all the way
- Joint locking
- Muscle spasms
- Pain like a toothache
- Neck pain
- Pain in the ears or behind the ears
- Headaches upon waking
- Teeth grinding (bruxism)
There are also several potential treatments available, depending on your symptoms and mechanical dysfunction. Treatment may include physical therapy, injections to relax muscles, splint therapy, surgery, or even orthodontic treatments.
Are Your Headaches Related to TMJ Disorder?
If you get headaches, it’s worth your time to contemplate whether everything feels right with your bite. Do your teeth fit together properly when you bite down? Do you feel things happening in the jaw that don’t seem normal? Do you ever clench your jaw? These questions won’t let you self-diagnose TMJ disorder, of course, but they may prompt you to make an appointment with a TMJ specialist.
Many dentists and oral surgeons can use special bite analysis tools, as well as 3-dimensional radiography images to capture a complete picture of your jaw. Most TMJ dysfunction can be diagnosed with just one or two appointments, and from there treatment becomes possible.
If you get frequent headaches, it’s time to start looking for an answer other than “stress.” By definition, stress is something we can’t control. If your pain is real and you’ve already tried taking better care of yourself, you may want to get checked for TMJ disorder. At the very least, you can rule it out as a cause, and keep looking for answers.
Dr. Chris Tye is a dentist, oral surgeon, and TMJ specialist in Colleyville TX. To learn more about TMJ disorder, visit his practice website Texas Oral Surgery Specialists.
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