11 Mar
2009

The second dental cause of headaches is a poor bite. For most of us our bite is something we take for granted. We just close our teeth together, and that’s it. In fact, we only notice our bite if we’ve been for dental work where either a more prominent tooth has been removed – so the mouth closes slightly more than it normally did on that side – or else we’ve had a filling which has been left ever so slightly proud and suddenly our teeth seem to bang together, with the jaw rocking around on that slightly protruding filling.

Because we’re not normally aware of our bite, abnormalities here can have very subtle effects. There are two areas that can cause difficulties. The first is when the jaw over-closes – perhaps too many teeth have been removed, or else you’ve always had a slightly asymmetric shape to your mouth or teeth. But for whatever reason, you may end up with a jaw that closes slightly more than it ought to. This puts stress on the joint between the jaw and the skull – the temporo-mandibular (TM) joint. You can feel this joint very easily, just in front of the ear canal. Try putting your finger into your ear, and open and close your mouth; you will feel the joint mewing underneath.

The TM joint can become strained in a number of ways. If it closes more than it should, eventually it gets accustomed to working from an abnormal position and the stresses occurring within the joint can cause pain locally. As soon as the temporo-mandibular joint (TM) becomes painful, it will start causing spasm in the muscles surrounding it. This spasm may radiate pain into the head and cause headaches; in fact, some TM joint strains can even trigger off migraines.

Another cause of TM joint pain is when one side of the jaw closes properly and the other side doesn’t, so there is a rocking effect. Finally, the TM joint, like any other joint in the body, is susceptible to arthritis. Inflammation within the joint, and wearing-away of joint cartilage, can be potent sources of discomfort. It can also dislocate, either with a blow, or on wide yawning.

Clicking noises within the joints can indicate problems of arthritis, but can also occur where there is excess muscular tension.

Orthodox treatment

Changing the angle and level of the bite can be very effective. Altering false teeth; or filing off proud bits of filling may all settle the bite down into a much easier, more balanced state that causes much less strain at the TM joint.

Alternatively, your dentist may want to put in a bite-raising appliance, which is about an eighth of an inch thick, made of clear acrylic, and fits over the back four teeth (usually of the upper jaw). Its function is simply to prevent the jaw over-closing. It isn’t easy to eat with a bite-raising appliance such as this, and so it is often worn only during the night. (For some reason people tend to clench their jaws at night.) Even if a bite-raising appliance is used only at night, it can give marked relief during the day.

The object of using a bite-raising appliance is to re-position the jaw in the TM joint socket, altering both the range of movement of the joint and the pressure points within the joint. This relieves the stresses on the joint, and stops the pain. TM joint problems are made much worse by stress: stress increases the level of muscle tension, which causes the joint faces to be rammed together more firmly, thereby causing more pain and damage. Therefore, stress management will help to relieve the pain of TM joint problems.

Type of pain

TM joint problems can give rise to several different types of pain – local, sharp, stabbing pain within the TM joint itself, often accompanied by dull, sore, muscle-contraction pain radiating over the sides of the face and head. In extreme cases, it can also trigger migraines.

Self-help

Make sure that you get regular check-ups, and don’t assume that because you’ve got a complete set of false teeth you can’t have a dental cause for your headache. If you’ve had your false: teeth for a very long time – and, particularly if you have a lot of thinning of the gums as well, or if your false teeth don’t fit as well as they used to and slip around your mouth rather more than you would like – then it’s time to go to your dentist for a check. Do tell him if you are suffering from headaches, because although dental causes of headaches are not all that common, if there is a dental cause and you don’t gel it soiled out, you’ll continue to suffer.

Complementary treatment

Obviously the only way to treat temporo-mandibular (I’M) joint problems is by bailing specialised work done by your dentist. Until the work is done, however; headaches can be controlled by a number of different therapies.

Any of the analgesic aromatherapy oils will help to ease the pain – try bergamot, camomile, lavender, marjoram and rosemary in the hath, rubbed gently on the jaw area in a light carrier oil, or in a vapouriser.

Bach flower remedies can be taken before any dental treatment (to help alleviate fear). To soothe bruising following dental treatment, take arnica in homoeopathic doses. For shooting nerve pain, try hypericum, or belladonna.

Osteopathy or cranial osteopathy can he successfully used to treat skeletal pain. Acupuncture and Shiatsu can also bring relief. Gently exercising the joint can help relieve some kinds of pain; and a medical herbalist might suggest an infusion of any of the following: balm, camomile, lavender, rosemary, skullcap, while willow and vervain.

Since the headaches are often caused by stress – jaw-clenching, etc -relaxation therapy and biofeedback are recommended.

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