Headaches and Your Teeth!! Is There a Connection??

More than 45 million Americans suffer from headaches ranging from the type that are daily tension to head busting migraines, but few ever think to seek help from their dentist.

When I ask patients if they get headaches they often answer yes but blame them on allergies, sinuses, eye strain or just having a bad day. Does that sound familiar? Well, there is a direct connection between your headaches and your teeth. It is known as occlusal or bite disease and it affects millions of people. Most aren’t even aware they have it. First, we need to understand what occlusal or bite disease is.

Occlusion refers to your bite and how the surfaces of your upper and lower teeth touch and function together. You probably don’t devote a lot of thought to making those surfaces fit against each other because for most of us it just happens. Thankfully, your brain is able to coordinate up to thirty-two teeth and dozens of muscles without telling you what it’s doing.

Occlusal disease does not always present itself as recognizable like tooth decay or gum disease. Read through the following list of signs and symptoms and see how many of these you can relate to.

  • Do you wake up in the morning with sore or painful jaw muscles?
  • Do you have headaches even though you may attribute them to other causes?
  • Are your headaches often in the areas of the temples and/or back of the neck?
  • Do you routinely take over the counter or prescription pain medication just to get through your day?
  • Do you have pain in the upper shoulder or trapezius area?
  • Do you have a sensation that your bite doesn’t feel right or your bite changes?
  • Have you ever heard a clicking or a grinding sound in your jaw joint?
  • Do you ever have pain or discomfort while chewing, especially gum?

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you’re not alone. A large percentage of the population is affected by these symptoms. Many have spent thousands of dollars seeking relief through the help of physicians, chiropractors, neurologists and physical therapists. Unfortunately, they are still in pain and experience headaches.

What it comes down to is that bite disease or a bite imbalance is something most people don’t even know they have. The reason being, when you close your teeth together they probably feel like they “fit” together pretty well, right?  That’s because your jaw muscles are trained or programmed to place your jaw in whatever position is needed to make your bite “feel” even and balanced. Unfortunately, your muscles are wrenching your jaw and jaw joint (TMJ), out of its proper alignment to accommodate your natural imbalanced bite. This action creates tremendous strain on your TMJ and your jaw muscles.  As a result, the fatigued muscles begin to spasm creating a headache.

The areas in red represent the jaw/facial muscles that are most affected and manifest as Headaches.

The most severe damage is done at night when you are fast asleep. This bite imbalance becomes more evident as your jaw muscles initially relax as you fall asleep, thus allowing your jaw joint to properly realign itself. Therefore, when your jaw passively closes to allow your teeth to touch together, your bite is severely misaligned. This misalignment triggers your muscles to heavily contract in an effort to align your bite. Your muscles can put up to 2000 psi of pressure on your teeth. We’re talking about huge amounts of strain on your teeth, your TMJ and your muscles that are doing all this contracting. Yes, you are clenching or grinding your teeth and you won’t know you are doing it because you are asleep. Many people are aware of teeth grinding (bruxism), but believe the cause is due to stress. Although stress can play a role during the day, it usually is not the culprit at night while you are fast asleep. It is your bite imbalance (disease) which is triggering your muscles and causing your pain. This strain during the night gets your jaw muscles in such a heightened state of tension and fatigue that a headache can develop with even the smallest amount of muscle use such as chewing or talking.

You can imagine that all this pressure on your teeth, jaw joint (TMJ) and muscles can cause all kinds of damage to those parts of your mouth.   The treatment to eliminate your headaches and most of these other symptoms such as a broken, cracked, sensitive or worn tooth is about getting to the core problem. That core problem is about balancing your bite. In some cases, realignment of some or all of the teeth may be required. Invisalign is a simple comfortable way to accomplish this phase of the necessary treatment.

A comprehensive oral health evaluation is necessary to analyze your condition and determine the correct course of treatment. This treatment to balance your bite must be performed by a dentist that has had advanced education in this area which requires extensive training beyond dental school. One of the most comprehensive facilities for this training is at the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Studies.

In future articles we will talk about how the majority of dental problems that people have (not due to bad hygiene or decay) are  a result of this damaging bite condition. Look for treatment options for the relief of your headaches in our next article.