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The TMJ Headache Pain RelationshipThe reason that the TMJ and your jaws cause migraines and other head pain problems is due to the fact that the trigeminal nerve is one of the most complex and powerful nerves in the human body. It is very closely associated to the TMJ and completely responsible for your jaw and tooth functions. It feeds sensation and function to your jaws, face, tongue, sinus, palate, eyes, teeth, and lips.
The trigeminal accounts for over 40% of the brain's processing. In other words, your brain spends over 40% of its energy trying to figure out what the trigeminal nerve is sending to and from it. The trigeminal also has innervation and control over certain areas of the brain itself. Any neurologist will tell you that physicians blame the trigeminal nerve for the reasons behind headaches! They just can't explain the reasons.
The trigeminal nerve is also "married" to the facial, hypoglossal, and vagus nerves. These nerves control sensation and function of almost all other muscles of your head, neck, and throat. The facial nerve is also intimately associated with the TMJ. Many branches of these nerves pass through or around the TMJ. "Upsetting" any of these 4 nerves usually ends up disturbing the other three.
That is why we see patients with the following complaints:
1. I have had migraines for over 10 years. I have tried every medication possible. When I get my migraine, which usually happens at least once a month, I am incapacitated for 3 or more days.
Explanation: This patient has undiagnosed TMJ compression and disk dislocation. The reasons could be complex! A long time ago this patient's jaw joint became dysfunctional. The natural, protective disk of the joint slowly resorbed over time and the jaw joint is now rubbing less than 1/16 of an inch away from the brain tissue. This jaw joint "bangs" on the underside of the brain over 5,000 times a day (every time she chews, swallows, yawns, laughs, eats, speaks, etc.) This patient usually has no signs of any TMJ pain or problems. The physician or dentist may do a quick TMJ exam and find absolutely nothing wrong. This patient may not have ever had any signs of TMJ popping, clicking, or pain. There may never have been any signs of jaw or jaw joint problems. However, upon reading a proper transcranial x-ray there is undeniable proof that the joint is damaged and responsible for mediating the migraine problem. It is like the story of the frog in the pot: put a frog in a lukewarm pot and bring it to boil slowly, the frog will boil to death. However, throw a frog into a boiling pot and the frog will jump out to save itself. Some patients may experience TMJ problems at one point or another, while other people are simply not aware of the problem happening in their own body. If you get into an accident and your jaw gets dislocated, you will know that you have TMJ problems because the dislocation hurts your joint, if severe enough. However, if you slowly wear away your joint over many years, you become the frog in the boiling pot. The body simply adapts to the problem due to the fact that the joint is used over 5,000 times a day. The joint becomes "numb" or "dumb", but the pain is relayed to other parts of the body.
In some patients, the joint itself may hurt or pop and click. This is normally seen during the early stages of some headache sufferers. After a while the noises and joint pain may go away, but the joint continues to undergo damage. It just becomes quiet and the pain gets transmitted to the other parts of the head. The patient who experiences once a month headaches, along with a poppin joint, eventually becomes the twice a week headache patient with no joint noises.
2. My vision is blurry and my opthalmologist can find no glasses or cures for my problems.
Explanation: The trigeminal nerve is responding to a muscle and jaw joint compression by irritation of its maxillary/opthalmic division. The problem is not even close to the eye. It is usually found within a damaged jaw joint or an abnormal muscle/jaw function.
3. I get frequent sore throats and swallowing problems, yet no antibiotic is helpful.
Explanation: Remember the 4 nerves! Irritation to the trigeminal or facial nerve can cause symptoms in distant areas to the other nerves. It is not uncommon for patient's with TMJ problems to have burning throats, difficulty swallowing, or other abnormalities of the throat.
4. Since I started getting headaches 5 years ago my doctor has put me on "happy" pills and I am not the same person.
Explanation: Most physicians attempt to treat a problem that they don't understand. Treating symptoms with medications is just lack of proper diagnosis. Jaw dysfunction and TMJ problems usually lead to personality changes and sometimes, psychological problems. The trigeminal nerve sends signals into the brain by way of the dorsal nucleus, which ultimately connects to the "emotional center" of the brain called the hypothalamus (which is responsible for your emotions). Overstimulation of the trigeminal leads to wear and tear on this component. The end result are emotional and psychological dysturbances.
5. Imitrex works for me during migraine attacks, but it doesn't control them
Explanation: Most medications for headaches try to cure symptoms instead of causes. Imitrex is sometimes beneficial because it constricts blood vessels and lessens the expansion of blood vessels in the brain. Other drugs such as Corgard can also lower blood pressure by slowing the heart rate down. The problem behind what physicians coin as "vascular headaches" is that they forget to find what causes the distension and the blood flow changes, to begin with. The simple explanation is found by reviewing the pages on the autonomic nervous system, found on this website. The sympathetic nervous system is so overworked in headache patients that a common diagnosis we find is RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy). In other words the body is constantly on the accelerator, breaking down...because the parasympathetic system is not given a chance to work and bring balance to the body. This happens as a result of joint damage, stressful life, smoking, irritability, and other factors that contribute to a stressed body. The body is "on fire"! Treatment must be aimed at changing the lifestyle. If there is true joint damage, then treatment must also correct this, because the joint damage may be causing the stress.
6. I was in a car accident 8 years ago and had no headaches until 2 years ago. Now, the migraines are uncontrollable.
Explanation: Car accidents, even at velocities as low as 9 mph, can result in whiplash which cause dislocation of the jaw joint. The dislocation may cause immediate signs and symptoms of TMJ pain, or it can take years for the problem to surface. Remember the boiling frog! Some people do not exhibit immediate signs of jaw joint dislocation, because it may take time for the protective disk to resorb and cause dysfunction of the jaw joint area. The disk slowly resorbs and the patient feels no pain. However, as the protective mechanism of the disk is lost, the jaw joint starts to rub on the skull bone/brain tissue and the body starts to exhibit signs of pain transmitted as migraines or headaches. Basically, the jaw joint remains symptomless because you use it so many times during the day (over 5,000 times) that your brain adapts to its underlying problem. Remember, the joint becomes "dumb." The nervous sytem, on the other hand, being mediated by the trigeminal and facial nerves, starts to make the body aware of the problem. That's when the headaches begin!
7. My ears have been hurting and ringings and making all kinds of noises for years. My ENT finds nothing wrong with them. I'm at my breaking point.
Explanation: The jaw joint is less that 1/4 inch away from your ear. Over 5,000 times per day that joint "bangs" on your ear. Take away the protective disk, and there is not much left to keep your ears from hurting. The trigeminal and facial nerves have many branches that project into the ear. Even the slightest dysfunction can cause the ears to hurt.
8. My sinuses get infected over 6 times a year. I have had surgery twice and antibiotics no longer work.
Explanation: Remember, the trigeminal nerve feeds the sinuses and palate. Improper function of this nerve, along with muscular dysfunction cause the sinuses to act problematically. The muscles of your jaws attach to your sinuses. Upset muscles cause sinus problems! Upset muscles cause nerve dysfunction, and vice versa.
9. My doctor has diagnosed me with GERD and I have bad headaches also
Explanation: The vagus nerve and hypoglossal nerves are responsible for swallowing. The trigeminal is responsible for chewing. Take the nerves out of balance and your digestion system will eventually break down. Over 50% of your digestion starts and completes in the mouth. Improper nerve and muscle function of your jaws will eventually lead to other digestive problems. In some patients, we even see signs of respiratory problems develop. This may be due more to a component of the pain cycle, but it is obvious.
10. I have seen my dentist and family doctor and both of them told me I don't have TMJ, but I have had headaches for over 10 years
Explanation: If you have headaches, you have a jaw joint problem (usually related to a jaw to jaw relationship problem)! You just have to find the right doctor to diagnose you properly. Don't be skeptical and don't take the word of any doctor who tells you otherwise. You can bet the national debt on the fact that 99% of all headaches are related to your jaw joint and your jaw to jaw relationship.