Headaches and dental-related pain


WHAT most people, physicians included, do not realise is that a tremendous number of headaches are related to the teeth. In my experience as a dental surgeon, as much as about 85 percent of all head pain has been directly attributable to problems in the teeth and jaw, especially when new fillings, new dentures or crowns are placed- and is readily alleviated with dental treatment.

Headaches have practically become a national pastime; they are the seventh leading complaint in outpatient medical care in Guyana. During the past year, nearly 90 percent of men and 95 percent of women have had at least one headache. An estimated 120,000 Guyanese suffer some form of severe headache; they make tens of thousands of outpatient visits to physicians every year for this condition. Thousands suffer from migraine – about 12 percent of our population.

When a friend told me that she had been getting headaches nearly every day for several years, I immediately suspected a problem with her teeth. Sure enough her wisdom teeth were impacted. Since she never had specific problems with them, she did not know that they needed to come out. And once they were removed? You guessed it – 99 percent of her headaches have completely vanished. She does still report an occasional headache, but we have both concluded that once her three kids are a bit older, those will probably miraculously vanish!

The result of stress, tension headaches are the most common, afflicting as many as 75 percent of all headache sufferers. Ninety percent of all adults have had a tension headache, says the American Council for Headaches. Tension headaches are usually a steady ache rather than a throbbing pain; they affect both sides of the head. I believe psychological factors have been greatly overemphasised as a cause of tension headaches.
You might think that the only way to treat a tension headache would be to reduce the amount of tension or learn how to “relax” more, but that is not always possible or even easily accomplished. It is also not only the answer.

Many times, people under stress will clench or grind their teeth, which is frequently the result of a misaligned bite. As a result, the tension headache is almost always accompanied by spasms of the muscles which help to open and close the jaw. To evaluate whether the headaches are bite-related, a small mould can be made fitting over the upper front teeth, which the patient wears for several days. Often, the headaches stop entirely or diminish greatly. It is then known that a dentist can go ahead and make minor, but important adjustments to reshape the teeth so the patient can have long-lasting relief. When the bite is corrected, the strain is taken off the muscles which are free to relax and heal, while the patient continues to feel better and better.

TMD – formerly known as TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome is simply a dramatic extension of the classic tension headache. It is named for the Temporomandibular joint which is in front of the ear where the lower jaw rests on the skull bone socket. Often related to clenching and misaligned bite, over time the TMD syndrome can result in extreme spasms and trauma to the muscles not only in the jaw but down the neck and shoulders. In many cases, even the back muscles are affected.

Between the top of the lower jaw, called the condyle, and the skull is a cartilaginous disc. This serves as a cushion as on condyle moves forward and down when the mouth is opening. If this gets displaced slightly, there will occur a click or pop upon opening the mouth; sometimes the jaw may even lock.

Some symptoms of TMD include dizziness, headaches, migraines, facial pain, tooth pain, pain down the arms into the fingers, lack of jaw opening, and pain upon jaw movement, ringing in the ears, grinding of the teeth and chronic neck and backache.

Since the site the of Temporomandibular Joint is at the intersection of three major energy meridians relating to the stomach, endocrine system and small intestines, relief of TMD can spark a tremendous healing process in the whole body, relieving symptoms like stomach problems, chest pains and cold extremities.