Headaches can strike at any time and at any age — in fact, they’re one of the most common medical complaints among people not just in the U.S., but around the world as well. Although you can get a headache any time during the day or night, lots of people have headaches early in the morning — even waking up with them. And once a headache has set in, it can make the rest of your day unpleasant and unproductive.
Often, morning headaches are dismissed as stress headaches, or maybe you think it’s because your pillow is flat or you “slept funny.” But the fact is, a lot of those morning headaches are related to your teeth — or more specifically, your jaws. Many headaches — especially those that start in the morning — are caused by a chronic condition called temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ. And until you have that issue treated, there’s a good chance those morning headaches are going to keep on occurring — and they might even become more common.
What is TMJ?
TMJ is a condition that causes irritation and inflammation in your jaw joints. Like your other joints, your jaw joints work best when the forces that open and close them are balanced. If your bite balance is “off” — that is, if there’s excess or uneven stress in your jaw joints — the joint tissues can become irritated, swollen, and interfere with the way the joint components work. People who have TMJ often experience clicking noises or sensations when they chew, talk, or yawn. Sometimes, it can feel like the jaw is “sticking” in one position.
Beyond that, though, the inflammation inside the joint can cause a lot of discomfort. Often, people grind their teeth unknowingly as their jaws look for a way to rebalance their bite and relieve the excess stress. Grinding causes your jaws to clench and tense, and that strains the muscles in your face and head. It’s that combined joint and facial pain that can cause those painful morning headaches. Why in the morning? Because while most of us can learn to subconsciously control grinding during the day, at night when we’re sleeping, we can still grind our teeth — and since we’re asleep, there’s no way to control it. Nighttime teeth grinding is a lot more common than you might think — and it’s also a common cause of TMJ and its painful symptoms.
How is TMJ treated?
There was a time when TMJ could only be treated surgically. But now that we understand a lot more about the condition and its causes, there are nonsurgical solutions to correct TMJ misalignment and get rid of painful symptoms, like morning headaches and jaw pain. The key is to find the right treatment to reduce jaw strain and, ultimately, to eliminate what’s causing your bite balance issues to begin with. Fortunately, Dr. Darj is skilled in diagnosing and treating TMJ, offering several options to treat the condition and relieve your symptoms without jaw joint surgery.
Oral appliance therapy
Oral appliance therapy uses a special nighttime guard that you wear during sleep. Guards not only help cushion your teeth so the strain of grinding and clenching is reduced, but they also protect the surfaces of your teeth which can become damaged by a chronic grinding habit. Dr. Darj molds each guard to the individual patient, so your guard will be especially comfortable and very effective in treating your grinding habit — and the jaw strain and headaches it’s causing.
Bite balance correction
During your office visit, Dr. Darj will look for problems like alignment issues, missing or damaged teeth, and other problems that could be interfering with your bite pattern and your jaw function. Then, he’ll recommend specific treatment options to correct those issues and get rid of the painful symptoms they’re causing. (Bonus: By aligning your bite, you can also reduce your risks of other oral health problems.)
Gentle stretching exercises may also help relieve built-up stress in your jaw joints and facial muscles, and exercise can also improve circulation to help reduce inflammation. While physical therapy might not be completely effective in eliminating pain on its own, it can be a good “add-on” treatment alongside oral appliance therapy.
Is TMJ causing your morning headaches?
The first step toward finding relief for your chronic headaches is to schedule an office visit at Dr. Darj Dental so your jaw joints and your bite mechanics can be evaluated. Once your exam and evaluation are complete, Dr. Darj can recommend a course of treatment that's focused on getting rid of jaw strain and finally putting an end to those TMJ-related headaches. To schedule your evaluation, book an appointment online today.