Dentists are known for making beautiful smiles, but did you know that they can also make your headache disappear?
Chronic headaches, such as migraines, affect more than 39 million men, women, and children throughout the country and more than 1 billion people worldwide. The prevalence of headaches is so significant that it is considered the third most prevalent illness in the world. Sadly, many people go through life medicating their headaches and then hiding in dark rooms when all they may really need to do is visit the dentist.
The vast majority of migraines and chronic headaches are caused by dental problems. In fact, around 86 percent of people who experience migraines have been associated with overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is the big brother nerve within the cranial nerve family. It is responsible for stimulating the movement of the jaw muscles.
Bruxism and Chronic Headaches
Perhaps your partner has noticed your jaw moving back and forth at night while you sleep. Maybe you wake up in the morning with a headache? Or maybe you just clench your jaw while sitting at your computer working throughout the day to focus on your tasks (ahem, we don’t know anyone who does that). Whatever the reason, clenching or grinding your teeth (called bruxism) not only wears down tooth enamel and can result in broken teeth, it places stress on the temporomandibular joint in the jaw. This is the connection point between your upper and lower jaw muscles.
Now, stop what you’re doing and find your temporomandibular joint. Massage it in a circular pattern. Does it feel sore or tender to the touch? Does massaging it help relieve tension in the joint? If so, you may have TMD or temporomandibular joint disorder.
Misaligned Bite and Chronic Headaches
The way your teeth sit in your mouth impacts your jaw. That’s why orthodontists do what they do. Their job is to improve your bite (and make your teeth line up nicely too). Ideally, when your teeth are fully closed, the mandibular condyles at the back of the mandible or lower jaw are relaxed. However, if the condyles do not sit in a relaxed position, they get fatigued, typically leading to a stiff neck and a painful headache.
How Your Dentist Can Treat Your Chronic Headaches and Migraines
Depending on the cause of your headache, treatment options will vary. At Living Dental Health, the majority of cases we treat do well with specially-made night guards. We specialize in customizing the fit so there is appropriate balance throughout the jaw, which allows the condyles to relax. Night guards also help protect the teeth from damage caused by clenching and grinding while sleeping.
Another treatment option available at our office for more severe cases uses a TENS unit. This treatment stimulates and aligns the jaws to the most balanced position relating to the nerves, muscles, jaws, and mandibular joint. It takes only minutes to bring the jaw muscles into their most neutral position. Once there, Dr. Andy will take precise measurements to design a custom night guard. Combining TENSing and a night guard can alleviate the pain associated with chronic headaches and migraines.
And in some people, we may recommend treating headaches with Botox. Just as it relaxes the facial muscles to reduce the formation of wrinkles and lines, Botox helps relax tight jaw muscles and significantly decreases pain.
One final option we may use if jaw misalignment is the culprit is orthodontia. Our Clear Correct Braces can move teeth using a series of custom-made, removable clear aligners, we can straighten teeth and adjust your bite, so your jaw sits in a relaxed and balanced position. Plus, orthodontia can correct any tooth movement that often happens with age.
Chronic headaches and migraines don’t have to dictate how you live your life. If you are struggling with headaches and want to learn more about the options available to provide relief, schedule an appointment with Dr. Andy. He will provide a thorough evaluation and talk with you about your symptoms and develop a plan to help alleviate your pain.