TMJ Headaches vs Migraines

tmj headache vs migraine

Serving Amarillo, Canyon, Dalhart and the surrounding Texas Panhandle

Migraine sufferers live an uncertain existence. They never know exactly when their next migraine headache is coming. This affliction affects more than 30 million people in the United States and, even after several decades of medical research on these headaches, scientists still do not know precisely what causes migraines.

Some patients, who think they have migraines, or even have been diagnosed with migraines, actually suffer from headaches that are caused by a case of temporomandibular joint disorder.

Why are TMJ headaches mistaken for migraines?

Because both types of headaches trigger or aggravate the trigeminal nerve. No other neural pathway in the body carries more sensory input than the trigeminal nerve.

A patient who suffers from a migraine experiences a change in his or brain chemistry during each of those headaches. These brain chemistry changes involve a decrease in serotonin as the trigeminal nerve releases signaling compounds that trigger impulses of pain.

By contrast, painful headaches are a common symptom of temporomandibular joint disorder (or TMJ for short) because of the proximity between the joint—which connects the jaw to the skull—and the trigeminal nerve. TMJ often causes problems in the muscles surrounding the jaws. These musculature issues compress the blood vessels, which impacts the nearby nerves, including the trigeminal nerve.

In many cases, a patient with TMJ headaches thinks he or she suffers from migraines because many of the symptoms are identical.

These common symptoms include:

  • Pain, which can be debilitating in nature
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Keen sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Distorted vision, including seeing flashes of light

Both TMJ headaches and migraines are different varieties of tension headaches. Medical physicians actually have diagnosed many patients with TMJ headaches as having migraines; in these instances, patients experience difficulty finding adequate treatment. For example, migraine medications only manage the symptoms of the headaches as they arise. Migraine remedies will do nothing to minimize the frequency of the headaches if they are related to TMJ.


Headaches are just one potential consequence of TMJ, a complicated disorder that can affect patients in a wide assortment of ways. A neuromuscular dentist is the best-qualified medical professional to provide both proper diagnosis and treatment of a case of TMJ. At the Esler Dental Group, we are fortunate enough to have the services of Dr. Clinton Esler, who has received extensive post-graduate training in the principles of neuromuscular dentistry, a specialization of dental science that emphasizes proper alignment of the bite and jaw.

Dr. Esler can use the advanced technology in our practice to relax your jaw muscles, and then perform sophisticated diagnostic tests to determine the best position of the jaw. From there, treatment can be provided through a mouth guard or even massage to keep your jaw relaxed and guide it back into its preferred alignment. Once your jaw is back in a relaxed, healthy position, your TMJ and the corresponding symptoms will be resolved.

If you have been suffering from painful headaches for quite some time without relief, schedule a consultation today to see if TMJ is the case. Call the office of the Esler Dental Group at (806) 358-8021.

Advanced Dentistry of Amarillo is proud to serve the needs of patients in the areas of Amarillo, Canyon, Dalhart and the surrounding Texas Panhandle.

6834 Plum Creek Dr.

Amarillo, TX 79124

(806) 358-8021

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