TMJ (jaw) Dysfunction and Headaches

We will explain why your jaw (TMJ) can have so much involvement in your neck problem or headaches. At the Hampstead Chiropractic Clinic, we will always a include a TMJ check as part of our history and examination, with relation to your neck or back problem.
Medical researchers estimate that at least 20% of the population suffer from a daily, or weekly headache or common migraine.

Many headache sufferers go from doctor to doctor looking for some kind of answer.  These people typically learn to live with their pain as they have often been told to accept and cope with headaches as a part of their normal daily life.

Anatomy – what is the TMJ?

The TMJ is an abbreviation for Temporo-Mandibular Joint, or the jaw joint.

The TMJ is the joint formed by the temporal bone of the skull (Temporo) with the lower jaw or mandible (Mandibular). The TMJ moves each time we chew, talk or swallow.

The TMJ is the most complex joint in the human body. Placed between these two bones is a disc made of cartilage, just like the disc between your vertebrae.

The two bones of the TMJ are held together by a series of ligaments, any of which can be damaged, just like any other joint. A damaged TMJ ligament usually results in a dislocation of the disc, the lower jaw, or both. Also, the bones are connected by two main muscles: the Temporalis, the Masseter. These muscles may also produce pain in the TMJ or at the very least, abnormal movement of the lower jaw.

Why does it cause headaches?

The nerve that controls the TMJ is a branch of the Trigeminal nerve. the Trigeminal nerve is one of the most complex nerves in the human body. As well as being completely responsible for your jaw it also controls motor and sensation to your face, tongue, sinuses, palate, teeth and partially the eyes as well as innervation and control over certain areas of the brain itself.
The Trigeminal nerve accounts for over 40% of the brain’s processing.

Research has now shown that in the chronic headache patient, the jaw muscles are in a constant state of tension (or contraction). Even the slightest touching of the teeth requires contraction of the temporalis and masseter muscles. Any continual contraction of the closing muscles results in a dysfunctional state, which may not be painful until a later time.

It’s during certain stressful parts of the day that we clench or grind and cause muscular damage. But at night, the stress can continue. Additionally, many other factors begin to develop. The nervous system becomes unbalanced. The sympathetic nervous system does not shut down and our bodies do not get complete rest. We feel tired, irritated, nervous, depressed, and angry. It’s our body’s way of telling us that something is going wrong. The parasympathetic nervous system does not get a chance to turn on and replenish the body with the hormones and nutrients that it needs.

Signs and Symptoms of TMJ Dysfunction

  • HEADACHE – Headache is one of the most common symptoms. Usually a TMJ headache is located in the temples, back of the head, and even the shoulders. Clenching and grinding of the teeth, produce muscle pain which can cause headache pain.
  • Also, a displaced disc in the TMJ may cause pain in the joint which is often referred into the  temples, forehead or neck. These headaches are frequently so severe that they are  confused and treated (with little success) for migraine headaches.
  • EAR SYMPTOMS – Due to the close anatomical relationship of the TMJs to the ears, an injury to the TMJ often causes various ear symptoms. Some of the symptoms may be ear pain, stuffiness, and even a loss of hearing. That’s why so many TMJ sufferers first see their GP or an ear specialist before even considering a possible TMJ problem.
  • TMJ CLICKING – The most common symptom of TMJ dysfunction is clicking of the jaw. ”;’There may or may not be pain in the joint itself with the click.
  • TMJ LOCKING – Locking of the TMJ may be noticed simply by catching of the lower jaw as it opens. Sometimes, the person must move the jaw to one side or another in order to open the mouth fully.
  • CHANGE IN BITE – A dislocated TMJ may also be associated with a change in the dental occlusion, or bite.
  • SENSITIVE TEETH – The teeth may become sensitive because of clenching or grinding of the teeth when the disc of the TMJ is displaced.
  • OTHER SYMPTOMS – Many other symptoms may be associated with TMJ dysfunction. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness, or disorientation are also seen in some people who suffer with TMJ.

Causes of TMJ Dysfunction

  • Bruxism – Bruxism is the abnormal grinding of the teeth. Bruxism usually occurs during sleep. That is why so many people do not realize that they are bruxers. One indication that a person is a bruxer is sore jaw muscles when waking in the morning. Some researchers feel that the constant grinding of the teeth causing pressure on the TMJ may injure the ligaments, thus allowing for the disc to dislocate. At the very least, bruxism produces muscle pain, sensitive and worn teeth.
  • Malocclusion – Malocclusion is simply a bad bite. Malocclusion may be produced by poor development of the jaws or removal of teeth without replacement, a high dental restoration, a poor fitting denture or partial denture, or a displaced TMJ disc.
  • Orthodontics – Some dentists feel that orthodontic treatment, or braces, might be a cause of TMJ. By moving teeth with orthodontic appliances, malocclusion is produced during treatment. Also, people undergoing orthodontics do report sensitive teeth, pain in the jaw muscles and even bruxism. However, as with malocclusion, there has been no scientific controlled study to prove that orthodontic treatment produces a TMJ problem.
  • Trauma – By trauma, we mean an injury as obvious as a blow to the jaw with a fist or something as subtle as a whiplash injury with direct trauma to the head or jaw.
  • Cervical Acceleration/Deceleration (Whiplash) – Although an RTA whiplash injury may occur from any direction, it usually comes from the rear. When a Cervical Acceleration/Deceleration (CAD) or Whiplash injury is produced, the head is thrust in the direction of the impact.  As the head is firstly thrown backwards, inertia  causes the mouth to be forced open. This produces stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the TMJ and often, displacement of the disc in the TMJ. The head is then thrust forward while inertia causes the mandible to be thrust suddenly backward, closing the mouth violently. Also, the introduction of air bags, which no doubt have saved numerous lives, have also been implicated in causing TMJ problems.
  • Ligament Laxity – People who appear to be double-jointed actually suffer from a problem termed a ligament laxity or Hypermobility. This definitely affect the TMJ’s.
  • Stress – Stress has many effects on our body and can be be both physical and psychological. Physiological changes can produce muscle tightness, teeth clench, abnormal pressure is forced against the TMJ disc, and if the ligaments are weak then the disc may dislocate.

Millions suffer from TMJ headaches, and they are probably the least understood and the most misdiagnosed of any type of headache. The symptoms of a TMJ headache can closely mimic those of sinus headache, tension headache, migraine headache, and sometimes the cluster headache.

At the Hampstead Chiropractic Clinic, we will always a include a TMJ check as part of our history and examination in relation to your neck or back problem.


hampstead chiropractic clinic logo

Providing High Quality Chiropractic in North London Since 2004

We are friendly Chiropractors in North London, NW3. Ideally situated close to central London, we have parking space and are just a few minutes' walk from Finchley Road tube station and Finchley Road and Frognal overground, linking us to Canary Wharf and the City.

Our chiropractic patients are typically from the North West London area but also travel from far afield due to our good results, appointments that aren't rushed and our attention to our patients.