TMJ is bad enough when it only causes mouth issues. The problem is that our body is highly integrated and certain systems take priority over others, causing dysfunction that just needs the right perspective to look into. In this article I will be covering 5 profound clues for TMJ migraines and headaches.
What is TMJ and how can we understand it in context with migraines and headaches?
TMJ or TMJD which stands for Temporo Mandibular Joint Disorder is a disorder where we experience issues with the temporo mandibular joint which is the join where our jaw meets our skull.
This is right near our brain as well as vestibular and auditory systems so there are many connections in dysfunction between all 4 of these.
This disorder can come from a number of different issues including just tension in the muscles around it that need some massage and release.
But, because of its presence with all of these other complex systems, it’s often a much more complex reason for why we are experiencing this pain and dysfunction, which absolutely requires we understand these 5 profound clues.
5 Profound Clues for TMJ Migraines and Headaches
1. Short middle “third”
So first and foremost we have to understand that in the last 1-200 years there has been massive changes in our facial and dental structures.
Where we used to have strong and wide dental arches we have started to develop shorter and smaller ones. This is one of the largest reasons for jaw issues and as everyone knows its incredibly common to get your wisdom teeth removed.
But this is a much newer occurrence and if it were to happen in native and indigenous peoples they would not be alive today.
So what has caused this shortening and shrinking of our faces?
There is two parts to it.
The first one is functional.
We were never before bottle fed and we never before ate as many soft foods as we do today.
When a baby is sucking on a nipple there is a full-body life-giving contraction happening within the baby to pull the mothers milk out. During this contraction our jaw is going through massive rotations and strain, giving it proper development and building strong musculature that supports a strong and wide jaw.
As soon as we are able to chew, traditionally we would be given roots, tubers and meats that all required a massive amount of jaw strength and effort to break down and digest properly.
But today we don’t have the same. We eat soft and easy to masticate foods that hardly push our jaws to their muscular capacities.
The body doesn’t waste resources, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
It’s critical to have at least one meal of a maximum stimulation and near exhaustion of your jaw muscles so that it gets enough nutrients to grow and develop properly.
The second one is nutritional.
In Weston A Prices book on Nutrition and Physical Degeneration he clearly showed how the changes in indigenous peoples diets from their traditional ones, to those of westerners caused massive changes to their facial and jaw structures ending in crowding and a poor “fit” of the jaw.
Not only was many indigenous peoples food unaltered but it was void of the white flour, white sugar, pasteurized foods and table salt that lack any nutrition.
On top of that, traditional diets are higher in vitamins and minerals that support dental and bone growth like Vitamins A, D, E and K as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium.
The combination of these two massive factors has lead to the crowding of our middle “third.” This middle third is found if we cut our face into horizontal sections. The bottom third is the jaw and mouth, top third is the brow ridge and forehead and the middle third is the nose and cheek bones.
This middle third has become much smaller and with it we’ve developed a smaller arch and smaller more crowded jaw.
When the jaw doesn’t fit together well we cannot complete our muscular chain.
We have a band of muscles that goes from the toes, up the front of the body to the bottom jaw.
As well as a band of muscles that goes from the heels, up the back of the body, over the head and to the top jaw.
Our jaw is what “completes the circuit” and when it doesn’t function properly, the tension gets put on the jaws musculature and ligaments.
Queue the dysfunction.
So what can we do about it? We have to work with what we’ve got, strengthen our jaw and make sure we have a strong nutritional profile.
There are techniques we can used to widen our arch even in adulthood.
Towards the bottom of the article I will present advanced practitioners you can see if you want specific help in this area.
2. Parasitic and inflammatory tension
When we look at the jaw we need to understand there is a deep connection here with the rest of the body.
Especially with the brainstem and the vagus nerve.
Whenever our brainstem is experiencing an overload of afferent messaging through the nerves(whenever too many messages are coming back into the brainstem) then it can release this extra tension onto the trigeminal nerve.
Not only can this cause migraines and headaches but it can also be a massive contributor to temporo mandibular dysfunction.
One of the main afferent(towards the brain) sources of energy and information is through the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve has a 9:1 (sending to brain:Brain sending to body) ratio and the vagus nerve connects directly into our organs of digestion and detoxification.
This means that if we are experiencing an overload of toxicity and inflammation in the gut, or liver or organ in this area then it will all be communicated to the brainstem through the vagus nerve.
This vagus nerve will pump energy trying to communicate its problems to the brainstem and if the brainstem is overloaded it will simply dump this extra tension and energy into the trigeminal nerve and muscles of mastication(TMJ).
This is a big recipe for non stop tension and problems even with therapies like massage and pain killers.
It will keep coming back until the issues being communicated through the vagus is resolved.
What does this mean?
Fix your gut. Health begins in it and even if we palliate the ways it tries to communicate to us that there is a problem, we will still continue to suffer the slowly progressing chronic disease of that problem.
Whether that be a parasitic or fungal organism, gut dysbiosis, food sensitivities, over burdened liver, problems with digestion etc etc.
It needs to be addressed because the body does not function in isolated systems.
Something like a comprehensive stool test from genova diagnostics or a GI map may be a good idea but…
It begins with the food you eat, even if you kill the harmful organisms, they are usually there for a reason.
Why is the gut weak? Why is the microbiome allowing this organism to live here?
Sometimes it may even need it to deal with an excess of calories it cannot process and use itself.
Follow these simple steps for good gut health:
Eat whole foods and balance your macro nutrients(proteins/fats/carbs/fibre) based on your bodies moment to moment needs
Make sure you eat enough fermentable fibers to feed the microbiome
Add bone broth, collagen and gelatin to form a strong gut lining
Supplement with deficient gut nutrients like glutamine, zinc, magnesium, glycine and proline
Get the parasites out!
3. Trigemino-cervical reflex
Along with the vagus nerve we also have to take into account that our body is always trying to keep us level.
Specifically, its always trying to keep your head and eyes level.
This takes priority over many other systems.
The problem here is that we have a delicate team of cervical vertebrae called the atlas and axis that function together at the top of our spine to keep us and our bodies level.
But they are also very prone to be shifted out of place during accidents, in estrogen dominance or as a byproduct of higher systems needing them to compensate to keep the head level.
If this complex(atlas/axis) is out of place, we can develop a massive amount of stress here because it sits on all of our other vertebrae.
This means it can shift the entire body, cause a shoulder to be higher than the other, hip to be lower etc.
And where can this tension go?
That’s right, into the trigeminal nerve and create TMJ dysfunction.
It’s a very tight knit system.
This is why we want highly qualified professionals assessing our entire body, not just our jaw.
If the problem keeps coming back, make sure to see a CHEK practitioner level 3 or higher.
For specific atlas and axis issues it would be important to see a NUCCA chiropractor.
4. The jaw will add stability for other systems that lack it
The next and one of the most important aspects especially for migraine and headache sufferers is how the body compensates for stability or a lack of it.
When our core function is off, the entire body scrambles.
Our core is primarily the transverse abdominus(the muscle inside of our abdominals that supports our spine)
When our core is not functioning properly and in tune with our breathing and especially if its being shut off by inflamed organs like above then we run into other systems of the body that will try to do its job.
Some of the most common systems that will tense to compensate for this include the neck(think neck tension with your migraines) or the jaw(think TMJD).
This is the bodies natural desire to remain stable but while compensating for deeper issues.
But it can simply be that our breathing mechanics and core were shut off during a period of stress or illness or pregnancy and were never synced back up again.
Ideally you would see a therapist trained in core and breathing rehab but you can also use this technique.
Lie on the floor on your back and breath through your nose the entire time.
Flatten your back so that you cannot fit your hand under your lower back between it and the floor, this makes sure that your core is engaging.
Then put one hand on your abdomen and one of your chest.
Through a slow breath of 4 seconds in 2 seconds held and 4 seconds out…
Expand your abdomen for the first 2/3 of the breath and your chest for the last 1/3
Focus on making sure that your abdomen is expanding but your back is remaining flat on the floor.
Repeat this for 5-10 minutes for 3-4 weeks to retrain your brain.
To advance the exercise, with flat back engage the core a little more by almost lifting your butt off the floor.
Continue nose breathing, 2/3:1/3 ratio with 4 seconds in 2 seconds held and 4 seconds out with a flat back.
5. Limbic/Emotional Tension
The final and actually one of the higher priority systems is our limbic and emotional one.
The limbic system is described as,
“Part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for our young, and fight or flight responses.”
Because of its deep connection to our emotions and levels of safety, security and stress, the limbic system is deeply connected to our entire bodies physiology and especially its level of tension.
When we go through experiences that charge us emotionally without a release, this can cause years and decades of changes physiological responses to stresses.
We can be sent into states of overreaction so easily and over things that we do not necessarily register consciously because of the patterns and behaviours that have been wired into us.
In essence we can be living in a state of sympathetic response to everything that happens, we can be living in fight, flight or fright mode.
Our normal and natural nervous system functioning will be predominantly parasympathetic where we rest, digest and repair. It is only in times of great stress or tension that we fully switch over to the sympathetic side that burns resources and prepares us for battle.
But if we go through traumatic experiences, if our childhood is full of stress and we learn that the world is not safe at a young age then we will be much more inclined to live in a sympathetic state.
This will ruin the quality of and delay the resting, digesting and repairing mechanism that we need to live normal and healthy lives.
Often all of this extra stress can end up in our jaw because of its close relation to our brainstem and connection with the trigeminal nerve.
This has to be cooled, we have to find a way to develop safety and security and feed whatever feeling gives us the sense of being at home and at ease.
This is easier said than done but simple techniques like mindfulness, meditation, restorative yoga, breathing practices, journalling, visualization and affirmations can help us flip the switch.
When we need more help than we can do for ourselves as our own selfhealers we need to look into these great TMJ practitioners:
– TMJ specialist dentists
– CHEK practitioners level 3 or higher
By addressing our:
– Middle Third
– Inflammatory Stress
– Trigemino-Cervical Reflex
– Dysfunction with stability
– Limbic/Emotional Tension
We can look deeper into and actually address some of the root causes of TMJ and how they contribute to migraines and headaches.
To learn more about migraines and headaches see our article on 7 crucial questions for tension headaches here.
If you are looking for more information on migraines and headaches get the inside scoop by joining the community here.
Do you experience TMJ migraines or headaches? How do they affect each other and how do they trigger each other? Let me know in the comments below.
Holistic Health Practitioner
Mark Canadic is a writer, speaker, holistic health practitioner and migraine community leader. Read Mark’s inspiring comeback story, “My Burnout and Brain Fires that Lead me to the Root.” Feel free to send Mark a message here.