Mar 26, 2009
Headaches and Dental Health
Is it nerves? Is it muscles?
One in eight Americans suffer from recurring headaches that are so severe they cannot carry out normal living! An estimated 80% of all headaches occur from muscle tension. Did you know that many tension headaches are related to your bite? Do you usually blame it on stress? Do you blame it on aging? This article explains how headaches can result from dental stress and how using a neuromuscular approach can help many headache sufferers.
Headaches are our number one pain problem in the United States. Approximately 40% of all “healthy” individuals suffer from chronic headaches. Head pain is not new. Early civilizations relied on magical potions and spells to cure headaches. In severe cases, holes were drilled in the skulls of headache sufferers so that the evil spirits, which were believed to be the cause of the pain, could escape. However, over the years we have learned much about what causes headaches and how to treat them. Today, there is a growing realization that a common cause of tension headaches is a bad bite.
Headaches from Dental Stress
How can your bite cause a headache? Tension headaches result from muscle strain, or contraction. When muscles are held tight for long periods of time they begin to ache. Headaches from dental stress are a type of muscle tension headache. A tension headache may be on one or both sides of your head. Or, it may surround your head as if a steel band were wrapped around it. The pain feels like a dull, non-throbbing ache. Aspirin usually relieves tension headaches. Specific signs, which indicate that the headaches may have a dental origin, include:
• Pain or pressure behind the eyes
• Sinus problems
• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
• Clogging or stuffiness of the ears, or subjective hearing loss
• Pain and/or sore jaw muscles
• Stiffness or soreness in the neck, shoulders and back
• Vertigo (dizziness)
• Grinding and clenching of teeth
• Sensitive teeth
• Clicking or popping jaw joints
The muscles, which control your jaw and hold, your head upright is very complex. Many people do not realize that every time they swallow, their upper and lower teeth must come together in a firm way to brace the jaw against the skull. We swallow over 2000 times each day and night! If your bite is unstable, as from poorly aligned teeth or even a missing tooth, the muscles must work harder to bring the teeth together. Most people take a vacation from work when they tire out-but your jaw muscles never get a break! The overworked muscles become strained. When muscles are under constant strain, they eventually become painful.
Other muscles may also become involved. Your head is delicately balanced on top of your spinal column by muscles in your jaw, neck, shoulders, and back. Your head weighs approximately 15 pounds the weight of an average bowling ball! Imagine your head as a baseball balanced on top of a pencil by a number of rubber bands. When muscles are tense, they shorten. Now imagine shortening just one of these rubber bands. Some rubber bands would stretch, some would shorten, and the baseball would throw off kilter! Similarly, when even a single jaw, neck, or shoulder muscle becomes shortened, all of the other muscles are forced to overwork to keep the head balanced on top of the spinal column. We see then that dental headaches originate from an unstable bite, which cause the muscles of the jaw, head, and neck to overwork and become painful. Once the muscles become painful, a vicious cycle begins. The pain makes you fell tense and uptight. This worsens the muscle spasm, which in turn increases the pain.
Neuromuscular dentistry is nothing new. Actually, it has been around for some 30 years, but is not the traditional approach to patient care in dentistry. Neuromuscular Dentistry (NMD) is a term applied to techniques that expand upon the more traditional approach to dentistry that is more mechanically oriented. NMD places the occlusion where the muscles that control jaw position are at their best for optimal function and comfort.
Additionally, NMD techniques are used to treat patients that suffer from TMJ-like symptoms and to aid in establishing the occlusion for dentures. The relaxed jaw position gives an added insight that may allow for faster completion and improve final treatment results.
So, the next time you reach for the Advil for that afternoon headache, think of what it would be like to be headache free.