Not all headaches are stress related
Do you often get headaches for no apparent reason? Have you suffered from headaches for a long time? Been to several doctors without much help? Tried pills, injections, massage or even surgery without not much help?
If you experience headaches, migraines, pain behind your eyes, jaw pain, facial muscle pain, stiff neck, shoulder ache or common headaches – these symptoms may actually stem from an issue relating to your teeth! This article will explore how your chronic headache symptoms may have a dental origin, and what treatment your dentist can provide.
When Medical Help is needed
Chronic headaches & migraines are considered one of the most commonly cited ailments in North America. Approximately 40% of all “healthy” individuals reportedly suffer from chronic headaches. The severity and frequency of these symptoms can be so pronounced that it may stop the average individual from going about their daily-life. Indeed, headaches can impact an individual’s ability to go to routinely attend work, socialize, or engage in physical activity. Note that immediate medical attention should be sought if onset of headache or migraine symptoms leads to weakness of an arm or leg, result in loss of vision, disorientation, and/or loss of consciousness.
It is estimated that as much as 80-90% of headache and related symptoms are in some way related to muscle strain occurring elsewhere in the body. Did you know that muscles in your head and neck are influenced by your dentition? A bad bite – or in other words, a misalignment between your top and bottom jaw – will impact the degree of muscle strain experienced by your jaw joint. Some chronic headache sufferers have a dysfunction in their jaw joint.
If you are experiencing chronic head, neck and shoulder pain – unresolved by medications and/or other medical treatments – it is time to see a dentist specially trained in treating jaw-joint ailments.
When is Chronic Headache a Dental problem?
The movement of our jaw joint is not as apparent to us as that of our elbows or knees; often we are completely unaware of when & how it is being used at a given time. Would you be surprised to hear that the jaw joint is the most frequently used joint in our entire body? It is involved every time we talk, chew and swallow.
When muscles are held tight for long periods of time they begin to ache. Headaches from dental origin are a type of muscle tension headache. Pain from a tension headache may occur on one or both sides of your head. Or you may find that the pain surrounds your head, like a band wrapping around it. The pain feels like a dull, non-throbbing ache. Tension headaches are usually relieved by aspirin, but will reoccur after the medication wears off.
Specific signs indicating that your headache may have a dental origin include:
- Pain behind the eyes
- Sore jaw muscles or “tired” muscles upon awakening
- Being a teeth grinder or clencher (can occur during awake and/or nighttime hours)
- Clicking or popping of one or both jaw joints upon opening of mouth
- Limited jaw movements and opening
- Head and/or scalp painful to the touch
Jaw position and Headaches
When the lower jaw is not in proper position, it can lead to various symptoms: clicking noises, “locked” jaw, joint-pain, headache, stiff neck and shoulder aches. People with jaw joint problems normally grind their teeth during sleep or clench them together during the day, which can result in hypersensitivity, ground-down or broken teeth and gum recession. These symptoms are often caused by a restricted and smaller upper dental arch, which push the lower jaw towards the joints.
The good news is that through simple, non-invasive procedures aimed repositioning the lower jaw, we are able to provide relief of jaw joint symptoms for a majority of patients. We have been successfully helping patients eliminate agonizing jaw joint problems for over 20 years!
Tired Jaw Joint Muscles
The muscles which control your jaw and hold your head upright are very complex. Many of us don’t realize that each time we swallow our 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.
If a jaw joint dysfunction is left unchecked, other muscles may also become impacted over time.
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. Now imagine shortening just one of those rubber bands. Some rubber bands would stretch, some would shorten, and the baseball would be thrown off kilter!
Similarly, when muscles are tense, they shorten in length. When even a single jaw, neck, or shoulder muscle tightens (becomes shortened), other surrounding muscles are forced to over-work in order to maintain the balance of your head on top of your spine. This is a muscle imbalance. In the case of chronic head, neck and shoulder pain with a dental origin, the root-cause is muscle imbalance stemming from the jaw joint – usually because of an unstable bite.
As soon as the symptoms spread to surrounding regions of the head neck and shoulders, a vicious cycle begins. The overall pain & discomfort you feel cause you to become even more tense and uptight. This increased tension in your upper body worsens the muscle strain, which in turn, feeds the muscle imbalance which causing the pain in the first place. This is why such conditions become chronic.
If you suspect that your headaches might be caused by your bite, contact a dentist who specializes in jaw joint therapy. Your dentist will examine your teeth, related muscles, and your jaw position to determine whether dental stress is the source of your chronic pain. If so, treatment will be focused on correcting your bite by placing the lower jaw in a more comfortable position, so that the muscles surrounding your jaw joint can function without the extra strain and tension. No, it does not involve surgery.
In some cases, it may be helpful undergo other types of treatment alongside your dental treatment – such as physical therapy to correct the postural relationship of your head, neck, and shoulders. Counseling or relaxation training may also be beneficial in teaching you ways to relax the jaw joint muscles and also identify sources of emotional stress which cause you to over-stain them.
Remember though, it is only the corrected function of your jaw joint that will ultimately relieve the chronic nature of your ailment. Achieving a correct dental bite is a major factor in ensuring optimal health over time. Health is your most priceless possession – it is worth the investment!
Dr. M. Kermanshahi
Feb 11 2016