Is it TMD or a Migraine?

added on: July 13, 2021

man with headache

In the US, around forty million people regularly have migraines. Worldwide, that number is closer to one billion. According to the National Headache Foundation, migraines are the #2 cause of disability worldwide. Migraines are a phenomenon that negatively affects so many people yet 16 million sufferers in the US alone remain undiagnosed. This is because migraines are still fairly mysterious even with recent advancements in migraine medications. There are so many factors that can contribute to migraines including genetics, chemical imbalances, hormonal changes, stress, and certain foods. Treatment for migraines includes a myriad of medications — many of which have been proven to dramatically lessen the effects of migraines.

At our office, we see a lot of patients who complain of severe headaches but have been told by doctors that they’re not having migraines. In these cases, we complete a TMD work-up to see if the jaw joint is working correctly. As strange as it sounds, TMD can cause symptoms that are very similar to migraines. So, how can you tell if you’re having migraines or if there’s a problem with your jaw? Our doctors break down the main differences between TMD and migraines.

Do I have TMD?

As we’ve talked about in previous posts, the temporomandibular joint (or TMJ) allows your jaw to hinge and is essential for acts like speaking, chewing, and yawning. If this joint is irritated or misaligned, the pain can be quite severe. So severe that many people mistake it for migraine pain. The biggest difference between TMD and migraines is the other symptoms that typically accompany TMD. People who are suffering from TMD-related headaches frequently report at least one additional symptom. These symptoms include:

  • Jaw clicking or popping
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Bruxism (dental grinding)
  • Ear pain

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a trained TMJ expert. They’ll take a CT scan of the area to see if the jaw joint is to blame. From there, they’ll form a treatment plan that will hopefully get you to a point where you’re pain-free. TMD is incredibly common and, like migraines, frequently undiagnosed. Luckily, there are many different treatment options when it comes to managing or correcting TMD. If you’re in North Carolina’s Triangle, just call our office to book a consultation with our TMJ specialist, Dr. James Harold.

Do I have a migraine?

Migraines and TMD can both cause persistent headaches, facial pain, and neck pain. However, migraines have a few additional symptoms that TMJ issues will not cause. These include:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Experiencing an “aura” before the headache

If you’re experiencing any of those three symptoms along with painful headaches, talk to your doctor about prescription migraine medications.

Could it be both?

Migraines and TMD are common ailments which means you could be suffering from both of them. Keep in mind that your general practitioner (most likely) will not be familiar with TMD. Visiting a dentist with TMJ training is the best way to fix jaw issues.


If you live in the area, call (919) 460-9665 to set up a TMD consultation.

Posted In: TMJ Therapy