Is Your Sinus Headache Actually a Toothache or TMJ?

Some people experience allergies year-round and not just during allergy season in Philadelphia. For some people that means irritated eyes and runny noses all year long. But for others it means headaches. When you have allergies, your body triggers an aggressive immune system response to something that is relatively benign, like pollen. 

One of the effects of this can be swelling in the lining of your sinuses. This can cause a painful sensation in your cheeks, around your eyes, and in your forehead. The pain may be constant, or it may pulse with your heartbeat. However, it turns out that sinus headaches are actually very rare, and that many people who have been diagnosed with them actually have migraines or tension headaches. They may also be related to a toothache.

We’re here to help you find out if you’re suffering from a sinus infection, toothache, or TMJ. 

Sinus Infection & TMJ Overlapping Symptoms

One reason a doctor might mistaken TMJ for a sinus infection is that they have a lot of overlapping symptoms. Both conditions exhibit symptoms including:

  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain and pressure
  • Stiffness in neck
  • Ear symptoms: ringing, pain, fullness
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Toothaches

Although both TMJ and sinus infections can show these symptoms, a sinus infection has a few symptoms that TMJ does not.

  • Nasal discharge (thick and colored)
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Upset stomach
  • Fever

If you experience any of those symptoms in addition to the others that TMJ and a sinus infection share, it’s most likely you just have a sinus infection. If your symptoms don’t improve after your sinus infection goes away, you might have TMJ.

On the other hand, TMJ has a few symptoms that sinus infections do not. This includes:

  • Popping, clicking or grinding noises
  • Muscle tenderness in the neck and head but nowhere else
  • Sore jaw joints

If you have any of those symptoms, there’s a good chance you have TMJ and not a sinus infection.

Can a Sinus Infection Cause Toothaches and Headaches?

If you have a persistent toothache that you have been ignoring, either by dealing with the pain or taking over-the-counter medication, it may actually have become more serious. A toothache is often a sign that tooth decay has penetrated close to or into the nerve of the tooth. Once an infection enters the tooth nerve, it can travel through the inside of the tooth into the sinuses, resulting in recurring sinus infections that may cause pain, fever, and other symptoms. 

If you believe that you have an infected tooth, look for the following symptoms:

  • Discolorated tooth
  • Swollen, tender gums around the tooth
  • Discharge from gums or tooth
  • Foul taste in the mouth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Small sore that looks like a pimple on the gums

If it’s a sinus infection and not an infected tooth you will experience 

  • Nasal congestion
  • Swelling and tenderness in nose
  • Postnasal drip 

If you used to have a toothache, but now you have sinus headaches, you need to see a dentist. You may need a root canal to stop your toothache and headache.

Migraines, Tension Headaches, and TMJ

Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches. They occur when overworked or tense muscles experience pain because of their exertion or put pressure on nearby nerves and other tissues. 

Migraines are not fully understood, but they seem to be related to excessive stimulation of certain nerves that trigger a complex response in the vascular system of the brain. TMJ starts as an imbalance in the jaw, but it can lead to excess muscle tension in the muscles of the head, contributing to tension headaches. Tension headaches can serve as a trigger for migraines. 

TMJ can also trigger migraines through jaw pain or by causing pressure on certain nerves, especially the trigeminal nerve, which is a known trigger point for migraines. It should be noted that sinus inflammation can also serve as a migraine trigger, and people with migraines often get more of them during allergy season. 

To get the best possible migraine and headache treatment, it’s important to determine the actual cause of your headache. If you have persistent headaches that resist treatment, you should be evaluated for TMJ to find out whether it might be the cause. For a TMJ evaluation in Philadelphia, please call (610) 272-0828 for an appointment with our dentist at Dental Excellence of Blue Bell today.