Many people have difficulty understanding how a jaw disorder like TMJ can be linked to severe headaches and especially migraines. After all, migraines are caused inside the head, and are linked to a wide range of triggers that don’t seem to have any relationship to the jaw. But there is an important link between your jaw and your migraines: the trigeminal nerve, which has been identified as a major trigger point for migraines.

How the Trigeminal Nerve Triggers Migraines

Woman with a throbbing migraineMigraines are often described as neurovascular headaches. That is, they are headaches related to a complex interaction between your nerves and your blood vessels. In many migraines, abnormal stimuli in the trigeminal nerve leads to the release of chemicals–called vasodilators–that cause blood vessels in your brain to swell. These swelling blood vessels put pressure on the brain, causing pain. Migraines can then intensify themselves because the pain leads to triggering the release of more vasodilators.

But what can cause the abnormal stimuli of the trigeminal nerve?

Muscle Strain

One potential cause of abnormal stimuli in the trigeminal nerve is overactivity of the jaw system. In TMJ, the muscles are often working very hard, straining against your jaw joints, teeth, and bones to try to get into a comfortable position.

The trigeminal nerve can be the focal point of this muscle strain, because seven of the eight muscles controlled by the trigeminal nerve are involved in biting, chewing, and swallowing. This includes the four primary muscles of mastication (chewing)–the masseter, temporal, medial, and lateral pterygoid–all controlled by the trigeminal nerve.

Jaw and Facial Pain

Another reason why your trigeminal nerve might be feeling overwhelmed is the sensations from jaw and facial pain. The trigeminal nerve got its name because it has three branches: the mandibular, maxillary, and ophthalmic branches.

The mandibular nerve carries pain and other sensations from the jaw. The maxillary branch carries sensations from the upper jaw, including the base of the nose, your cheeks, and the area right under your eyes. The ophthalmic branch carries sensations from the top of the nose, the area around the eyes, and the scalp. In most people, the trigeminal nerve covers about ⅔ of the top of your head.

So if you’re experiencing jaw pain due to TMJ or a tension headache related to muscle overactivity, that can potentially overwhelm the trigeminal nerve, kicking it into overdrive.

Are All Migraines Triggered by TMJ?

Migraines are complex, and there are really many different underlying conditions that cause them as well as many ways they can be triggered. That’s why people respond very differently to migraine treatments (and nearly half of people are unsatisfied with their current migraine treatment). TMJ doesn’t cause all migraines, but if your current migraine treatment isn’t working, it might be causing yours.

If you would like to be evaluated for TMJ and learn whether TMJ treatment can reduce or eliminate your migraines in Denver, please call (303) 691-0267 for an appointment at The TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.