Headaches, jaw pain and teeth grinding: are these problems all related to the TMJ?

 In Injuries, TMJ

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a common source of pain and dysfunction. The TMJ is the joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull and allows the mouth to open and close, to facilitate chewing and speaking. It is one of the smallest joints in the body, but can be one of the most debilitating because we must frequently use it throughout the day when eating or talking.


People who suffer from TMJ dysfunction often have a clicking or popping sensation when opening or closing their mouths. This clicking or popping, which happens when the disk in the joint is not in the correct position when the jaw is moving, can be so pronounced that others may even be able to hear it. Other common symptoms include headaches, neck pain, and ringing in the ears (often referred to as tinnitus). One of the major causes of TMJ dysfunction is bruxism, a repetitive clenching or grinding of the teeth. This typically happens at night while sleeping, so people may not be aware of it until their dentist notices early wearing on the teeth or a spouse or family member may hear the grinding sound. Another potential cause of TMJ dysfunction includes activities where the mouth is forceful closed in a misaligned position such as in excessive gum chewing and nail biting. Degenerative joint disease, structural mouth and tooth issues, and neck and upper back posture can also contribute to TMJ dysfunction. It is important to assess posture because when posture is poor, it disrupts the normal mechanics of the muscles responsible for chewing, putting additional strain on the joint.

night guard

It is always suggested to see your dentist to assess for any structural problems. Bruxism, for example, can be minimized with the use of a bite plate (also known as a night guard) to be worn at night, when the grinding is at its worse.

jaw strengthening

Physiotherapy is beneficial for people who suffer from TMJ issues. Physiotherapists, who have specific training in the TMJ, will properly assess not only the jaw, but also the neck. Potential course of treatment includes muscle retraining, manual therapy techniques for the joint and surrounding muscles, and pain relief modalities, such as TENS, Laser or acupuncture.

Have you ever heard anyone grinding their teeth at night?

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Showing 4 comments
  • Lara

    I’ve never heard anyone grinding their teeth but I hear it’s awful. Fortunately I’m asleep while I’m doing it 😉
    I do have a lot of discomfort from it and should probably consider getting some help with it – other than the mouthguard I hate wearing.

    • Jason Bellefleur

      My oldest daughter grinds her teeth at night, hearing it is disturbing in a nails on the chalkboard sort of way.
      Usual course of treatment is to fix muscle imbalances (via exercise), decrease muscle tension and pain with soft manual techniques. The mouth guard helps to prevent too much wear on the teeth and minimizes joint compression 🙂

  • Katrina

    I grind my teeth and it’s awful. I wake up with headaches, sore jaw and when I eat certain foods my jaw clicks. Not to mention I’m damaging my teeth. I used to wear a guard but that doesn’t stop me from grinding. HELP!

    • Jason Bellefleur

      Have you ever considered seeing a physiotherapist trained in the TMJ? They would be able to assess, treat and make recommendations on how to minimize the pain, headaches and clicking. The night guard protects your teeth but it won’t stop you from grinding necessarily, however it’s possible that with less muscle tension in the jaw there may be less grinding.

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