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TMJ Headaches vs. Migraines

Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, and Lincolnshire

Medical science has progressed at such an amazing rate in the past several decades, and yet we still do not have a consensus as to what causes migraine headaches. Even though migraines are an affliction shared by more than 1 billion people around the world, the exact cause of these headaches remains a medical mystery. Because there is no proven cause of migraines, certain maladies can be misdiagnosed as migraines. One of these issues is having frequent, severe tension headaches that are caused by temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ/TMD.
tmj headaches migraines

Headaches and the Trigeminal Nerve

Both TMJ headaches and migraine headaches are different varieties of tension headaches involving the trigeminal nerve.

Temporomandibular joint disorder occurs due to a dysfunction within the jaw joints or malocclusion (bad bite). Any issue with the temporomandibular joint is likely to impact the trigeminal nerve, which is located nearby the joints and carries more sensory input to the brain than any other neural pathway. When TMJ disorder is present, the issue with the joint may cause a compression of the nearby blood vessels, which exerts an inordinate amount of pressure on the adjacent nerves, including the trigeminal.

For a migraine sufferer, the onset of a migraine headache leads to a change in brain chemistry. During an attack, serotonin levels decrease, and the trigeminal nerve sends signals to the outer covering of the brain, generating pain impulses.

TMJ headaches and migraine headaches have the following symptoms in common:

  • Pain, which may be debilitating in nature and impede the ability to function
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Nausea and vomiting

Differences Between TMJ Headaches and Migraines

TMJ headaches must be treated differently than other types of tension headaches. Unless the TMJ disorder is treated, the headaches will continue to occur at the same or greater frequency. Even the strongest headache medications will only manage the severity of TMJ headaches, but will not decrease how often they occur.

Migraines do have some symptoms that are specific to that malady. The most identifiable symptom is an aura—a visual hallucination that occurs as a precedent to an attack. A person with TMJ headaches may experience other symptoms, including jaw pain, bite misalignment, or limited range of motion in the jaw.


According to the Migraine Research Foundation, the majority of patients who suffer from migraines never seek professional diagnosis and treatment. Likewise, many people who have TMD may never realize they have the disorder because they do not seek medical help. A medical professional must treat both migraines and TMJ headaches to provide the sufferer with relief.

Neuromuscular Dentistry in Lake Forest

If you have symptoms of TMD or think you may have the disorder, seek the care of a neuromuscular dentist in Lake Forest, the best-qualified medical professional to diagnose and treat a case of TMD. Schedule a consultation with Lake Forest Smiles by calling (847) 234-4800. Drs. Douglas Campbell and David Schmidt have been providing elite dental care to the communities of Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, and Lincolnshire for more than 30 years. We welcome you to our practice.

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