Got a TMD? It Could Be Making Migraines Worse

An estimated 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches each year. A migraine is categorized as a headache that produces an intense, throbbing pain in one or both sides of the head. This pain is often focused behind the eye socket, in the temples or behind the ear. Migraine pain is usually accompanied by other side effects like nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity and dizziness. It can also produce something called an “aura,” which is a visual side effect that moves in a wavelike pattern across the visual cortex.

While the exact cause of migraine headaches is unknown, many medical professionals think they could be caused by a change in the nervous system, and can be sparked by everything from weather changes to dietary choices, hormones and stress.

But now, researchers from the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine in São Paulo, Brazil, have some more disappointing news for chronic migraine patients: Migraine sufferers who also have temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) may experience worse migraines and worse TMJ pain than those who do not experience migraines.

Dr. Alexandra George is a dentist from Wexford, Pennsylvania, who treats patients with TMJ disorders.

“The study from Ribeirão Preto School of Medicine found that people who suffer frequent migraines are three times more likely to experience intensified TMJ pain in addition to their migraines,” George says.

Researchers theorize that this increase in pain is because patients who suffer from migraines may have an increased risk of TMJ disorders, too.

“As if that’s not bad enough, they also think having TMJ pain can help trigger a migraine, too,” George says.

So, what can migraine sufferers with TMJ disorders do to help reduce their odds of a vicious cycle of pain?

“Treat what’s treatable first,” says George. “There may not be a cure for migraines yet, but there are many options for TMJ sufferers.”

Common TMJ disorder treatments include neuromuscular dentistry, orthodontics and even custom orthotics available through your dentist.

“Even if you don’t think you have a TMJ disorder, if you get migraines, speak to your dentist,” George says. “Restoring balance to your bite can make a huge difference in your overall health and well-being, as well as taking the edge off of these debilitating headaches.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on November 1st, 2017