A Bad Bite

The Secret Behind Your Headaches—It’s not Stress or Sinus

If you regularly suffer from migraines or headaches that you pass off as being stress-induced or caused by sinus pressure from allergies, you might want to get a second opinion—but not from a physician. Instead you should visit a dental professional who is skilled at diagnosing and treating what might be a misalignment of your jaw or a “bad bite,” or as it is called in medical circles, temporomandibular dysfunction or TMD.

“Headaches are not normal,” says Dr. Lisa Marie Samaha, an internationally recognized dental expert who owns Port Warwick Dental Arts in Newport News. “Those who suffer from headaches—including migraines—often feel this is ‘normal’ because this has been their ‘norm’ for many years. When head and neck pain patients seek help, they often go to a physician who will diagnose the pain as stress-related. Sometimes this is true, mainly because the dynamic of teeth clenching and grinding– which can trigger a headache—is directly related to stress levels an individual is experiencing. Extensive testing is often performed by the physician and the patient is generally prescribed pain medication to control the symptoms. Unfortunately, this does little to get to the root of the problem and often produces negative side effects for the patient.

According to scientific research, a person’s bite or bite habits are the origin of the majority of head, neck and jaw pain. In many cases the pain can be resolved, sometimes overnight, with a gentle, straightforward process that can be performed by a dentist with the advanced training required to evaluate and treat the problem.

Although biting and chewing seem like relatively effortless processes because we do them so automatically, these functions are made possible by a complex series of muscles, ligaments and joints working together to keep the upper and lower jaws aligned and in balance. When that alignment is off—which could be the result of some physical trauma that has occurred over the years, or even the birthing process—the muscles and ligaments do their best to compensate, often needing to stretch, twist and torque to do so. This stretching and twisting causes pain triggers in the nerve endings of the head, neck and spinal column, even as far down as the lower back.

The motion of chewing itself can seem perfectly natural because the brain is programmed to allow the jaws to come together, no matter how imbalanced, permitting us to eat food to ensure our survival. The consequence is that many live in pain—often debilitating pain—without fully understanding why.
Having a bad bite can also be troublesome for anyone with cosmetic dentistry. Expensive porcelain crowns and veneers can shatter, and in more severe cases, costly root canals may become necessary to repair the damage such trauma places on natural teeth.

So what should you do? The following symptoms are common indicators of a TMD problem. If you suffer from one or more of these symptoms frequently, you should schedule an appointment with a trained dental professional to be evaluated:
• Headaches
• Temple pain
• Pain around the ear, eyes, jaw joints or facial muscles
• Clenching or grinding of the teeth
• Neck and shoulder pain
• Pain upon opening the mouth or chewing
• Uncomfortable or changing bite
• Worn down and/or chipped teeth
• Teeth or fillings that fracture

Even if you do not experience regular pain, an alignment issue is typically present if your jaw locks, pops, clicks or deviates from side to side when you open and/or close your mouth. This is a sign of degeneration and can lead to serious consequences over time.

Remedies can be very simple or very complex, depending on the dynamics of your bite. “Sometimes we may begin to resolve a headache within 10 minutes with a simple device, or overnight with a special, custom fitted bite guard that can be used while you sleep,” says Dr. Samaha. “For some patients who have endured years of unsuccessful medical treatments to alleviate pain and discomfort of headaches, earaches and neck and shoulder pain, the relief is so welcome they break into tears.” (Dr. Samaha is quick to note that ready-made, over-the-counter bite guards for clenching can be dangerous as they can actually increase the habit that is trying to be eliminated.)

There is no need to live with this kind of pain. If you have more headaches than you care to count and you are tired of masking the pain with over-the-counter remedies and prescription medications, make an appointment as soon as possible to see a trained dental professional for an alternative. When pain is not the driving force of your everyday life, you’ll experience the world in a fresh new way.

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