How Headaches Produced by Dental Stress?
To understand how the dental stress can be the cause of headaches and other facial pain, here’s a very brief overview of how the temporomandibular joint (the jaw joint or TMJ) and its related muscles and nerves work together.
If you place your index fingers just below your ears, you can feel the movement of temporomandibular joints on both sides of your face as you open and close your mouth. The joints work in unison with one another, and each comprises two parts. The upper part consists of the temporal bone, which is part of the skull, while the lower part is called the ‘mandible’, or lower jaw bone. The two parts of bone where the joint interacts are separated by a round disc of firm yet supple cartilage. Because the TMJ is flexible, the jaw is able to move smoothly up and down, and from side to side.
In addition to enabling us to chew, talk and yawn, the TMJ is also activated every time you swallow (which happens about 2,000 times a day). This makes it the most frequently used joint in our body, and whenever the TMJ is in operation, a myriad of muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons are also playing their role. In particular, the TMJ is closely associated with the part of the trigeminal nerve, which acts as the motor nerve that controls the muscles used in chewing. The trigeminal nerve is the largest and most complex of the 12 cranial nerves. Its functions are to take sensations of touch and pain from your face, teeth and mouth and transmit them to the brain.
The pain experienced in temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) is usually as a result of injury, inflammation or irritation of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and blood vessels surrounding the TMJ. Sometimes, the signals sent by the nerves to the brain result in what is called ‘referred pain’. This means that the pain sensation you experience feels as though it’s coming from a part of the body.
The pain felt from TMJ headaches is often located in the back of the head or the temples, or can be felt as referred pain elsewhere on the face.