Dental-related pain and headaches

WHAT most people, physicians included, do not realise is that a tremendous number of headaches are related to 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% of men and 95% 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% 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% of her headaches have completely vanished. She still reports occasional headaches, 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% of all headache sufferers. According to the American Council for Headaches, 90% percent of adults have had a tension headache. 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 tension or learn how to “relax” more, but that is not always possible or even easily accomplished. It is also not only the answer.

People under stress often 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 in the skull bone socket. Often related to clenching and misaligned bite, the TMD syndrome can result in extreme spasms and trauma to the muscles in the jaw, neck, and shoulders. In many cases, even the back muscles are affected.

A cartilaginous disc is between the top of the lower jaw, called the condyle, and the skull. This serves as a cushion as the condyle moves forward and down when the mouth opens. If this gets displaced slightly, a click or pop will occur 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 of the 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.


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