We know that there’s a strong link between migraines and TMJ. Although it’s hard to establish a causal link, we know through our practice that people with TMJ are more likely to suffer more migraines–and more likely to experience severe migraines.
Now a study from Brazil has confirmed at least part of that association. Researchers from the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo confirmed that people with chronic migraine are about three times more likely to report TMJ symptoms than those with episodic migraine.
Chronic Migraine 100% Associated with TMJ
For this study, researchers looked at a relatively small sample of people with migraines as well as a control group without migraines. The total study size was 85 women in their early to mid-thirties. Chronic migraine–defined as 15 or more migraine days a month–was reported by 21 of the patients, while 32 reported episodic migraines, and a further 32 had no migraines and served as controls. Researchers then evaluated the patients for TMJ symptoms. They found that 54% of the control group had TMJ symptoms, compared to 80% of those with episodic migraine, and 100% of those with chronic migraine.
In addition to showing the relative prevalence of TMJ symptoms in even the control group, the study showed the powerful association between chronic migraine and TMJ.
What’s the Connection?
Since there are many mechanisms for explaining both migraines and TMJ, it’s hard to figure out what, exactly, is responsible for the connection in this case. Researchers in this study looked at the mechanism of central sensitization to explain their findings.
Sensitization is a mechanism that is becoming increasingly popular to explain many chronic pain conditions, including migraine, TMJ, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and fibromyalgia. Basically, sensitization is a mechanism by which the body comes to interpret many different signals that aren’t pain signals as pain signals. Thus, in a sensitized individual, even a slight pressure can be felt as pain. Sensitization can occur either at the site of the pain–known as peripheral sensitization–or in the brain–known as central sensitization.
The attractiveness of the central sensitization explanation is that it can easily link many different pain conditions occurring throughout the body. The brain begins interpreting even minor pressure as pain, so it can experience IBS related to minor digestive discomfort or fibromyalgia related to even small amounts of muscle fatigue.
Although there are reasons to doubt the central sensitization model for TMJ, it could play a role in some circumstances.
TMJ Treatment Should Be Part of Migraine Care
Authors of this research say that the prevalence of TMJ among migraineurs shows that TMJ treatment should routinely be included as part of the migraine care. Failure to treat TMJ means that it might be harder to get good results in migraine care. Instead, doctors should routinely examine patients with migraine for TMJ symptoms and recommend treatment for the condition if it’s present.
If you think that TMJ might be contributing to the severity or frequency of your migraines, we can help. Please call (303) 691-0267 today for an appointment with a Denver TMJ dentist at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado.