If you’re one of the 28 million Americans who suffer from debilitating headaches known as migraines, you are most likely familiar with how agonizing they can be. But as if the pain, nausea, light sensitivity and dizziness that frequently accompany migraine headaches wasn’t enough, some migraine sufferers may be in for more bad news. That’s because, according to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who get migraine headaches are three times more likely to suffer from another painful disorder known as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD for short.
TMD affects the temporomandibular joint of the jaw. Though it is believed to have many causes, some of the most common causes of TMD are a misaligned or bad bite, teeth grinding, and even stress or tension. It can present itself as tightness, pain, and clicking or popping of the jaw, but it can also have more serious side effects, like the inability to open one’s jaw, severe neck and back pain, headaches, and even tinnitus.
In an effort to help reduce some of the debilitating side effects of migraine headaches, the NIH researchers sought to find a common denominator between the two conditions. What they found was that not only were the two conditions likely to be linked in some patients, but also that treating a patient’s TMD helped provide some relief for migraines.
Dr. Alexandra George is a Wexford, Pennsylvania-based dentist with expertise in neuromuscular dentistry, a specialized form of dentistry that treats TMD. She has seen the link between TMD and migraines frequently in her practice.
“If you think about it, the connection makes sense,” George says. “TMD pain can affect the whole body, and often causes many of the same symptoms as a migraine headache. At the same time, a migraine can cause tension and pain, which could lead to a TMD disorder. The question we need to answer now is, ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’”
The good news, according to the NIH study, is that while it is unclear if migraines are causing TMDs or vice versa, treating these disorders not only has been found to be beneficial at reducing pain and alleviating TMD symptoms, but it could also help lessen the severity of migraine symptoms.
“We know there’s a link. What we need to figure out now is how to harmonize treatments for both conditions and help sufferers start living a better life,” George says.