Migraine and Jaw Pain: What You Need to Know

Migraine and jaw pain are connected. The common element between the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and migraine headaches is the fifth cranial nerve, called the trigeminal nerve. The primary function of the trigeminal nerve is to provide sensation to the face, jaw, and forehead region.  However, the nerve also gives sensation to the covering of the brain and intracranial arteries. This common innervation by the trigeminal nerve is the physiological basis for the connection between migraines and TMJ disorders.

Here we cover migraine symptoms, migraine causes, the connection between the TMJ and migraine, and how to get TMJ migraine relief.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraine headaches are typically experienced as a pounding, throbbing, or pulsating headache and are often debilitating to those who suffer from them.  It is common to have nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines are typically experienced in defined stages, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Prodrome Stage – Occurs 1-2 days before the migraine and includes:

  • Intestinal upset
  • Changes in Mood
  • Thirst or frequent urination
  • Increased yawning

Aura Stage – Visual and sensory changes unique to migraines, described as:

  • Bright flashes
  • Vision disturbance
  • Other sensory phenomenon (hearing, skin sensations)
  • Coordination changes
  • Usually last under one hour
  • Can be before or during the actual headache
  • Only 25% of migraines sufferers experience aura.

Migraine Headache Stage – Symptoms last 4-72 hours and include:

  • Pounding, throbbing, pulsing headache
  • Usually on one side of the head
  • Severe sensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Queasiness, nausea, vomiting
  • Worsened by movement

Postdrome Stage – The 24 hours after an attack, people feel:

  • Exhausted
  • Disoriented
  • Relief

Migraine Causes

The causes of migraine headaches are complex and incompletely understood. There is a hereditary component to migraines and its genetic underpinnings are being worked out. Particular attention is being played to the “soup” of chemical mediators that accumulate during a migraine. These neurochemicals cause inflammation, dilation of brain blood vessels, and nerve sensitization. It was previously thought that blood vessel dilation was the primary cause of migraines, but this appears to be a secondary effect.

Above all, the migraine brain is one that exhibits hyperexcitability, making nerve sensitization the true origin of migraines. Nerve sensitization is a two-way relationship; nerves located on the face and neck can sensitize brain neurons, leading to headache symptoms (peripheral sensitization), and headache can cause peripheral nerve sensitization, leading to abnormal skin sensitivity and muscle pain in the scalp, face, and neck (central sensitization).

The Connection Between Migraine and Jaw Pain

“The connection between TMJ disorders and migraines is complex and bidirectional.  People with migraines often have jaw pain and people with TMJ disorders often suffer migraines,” explains Bradley Eli, DMD, MS, an Orofacial Pain Specialist. Here are some facts that describe this complex connection:

  • Migraine frequency increases in people with increased TMJ pain.
  • Migraine intensity increases in people with increased TMJ pain.
  • TMJ disorders are a risk factor for developing migraines.
  • Migraines are a risk factor for developing TMJ disorders.
  • Treating migraines can reduce TMJ pain.
  • Treating TMJ pain can reduce migraines.
  • Depression, anxiety, and stress are risk factors for both migraines and TMJ disorders.

As noted above, the trigeminal nerve complex is the common physical connection between migraines and TMJ disorders. The first branch of the trigeminal nerve surrounds the brain covering and arteries.  The third branch relays sensory input from the face, jaw, neck, and forehead. Both branches converge in the brainstem, where they share common connections to other parts of the brain responsible for pain modulation. This explains the bidirectional nature of the condition, featuring both central and peripheral sensitization.

TMJ Migraine Relief

A TMJ migraine is a migraine headache triggered by TMJ pain through peripheral sensitization. The literature supports the idea that treating TMJ pain helps alleviate migraine headaches. TMJ migraines can be treated with medications, Botox injections, and even acupuncture, but there are some conservative and self-care therapies that you can try first.

The best way to achieve jaw pain relief is through a multimodal strategy. This should include:

  • Jaw Rest: You can rest the jaw by a soft food diet and avoiding chewy foods or chewing gum.
  • Hot/Cold Therapy: Alternating heat and cold can decrease pain and comfort jaw muscles.
  • Physical TherapyGentle jaw exercises can increase the jaw range of motion and decrease pain.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Using self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques for pain control have consistently been shown to be effective.
  • Oral Splinting: Anterior bite guards (like the QuickSplint®) are specialized mouth guards that can relax tense jaw muscles and bring rapid jaw pain relief.

All of these measures are included as part of the Speed2Treat® Home Healing Kit. We provide everything you need to get started immediately, including the QuickSplint® anterior bite guard. If you are having migraines and jaw pain, Home Healing Kit is an excellent way to get rapid jaw pain relief.

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