In my line of work I come in contact with a lot of folks who complain of headaches. It’s not that I run into a lot of whiners, in fact I usually bring up the subject. The common thread with most of our patients is that they didn’t realize that there may be a connection between their headaches and their bite. Most folks by now have heard of TMJ and jaw pain being related to a “bad” bite, but few have heard of the association of headaches and what we call malocclusion or “bad bite.”
You see, the jaw joint is a real complicated joint. It hinges, like your knee does, but it also comes away from it’s socket to slide forward as when you open really wide. The TMJ can also translate left and right, as it does when you move you chin left and right. There are several muscle groups that all work together to make this happen. Surprisingly these muscles are not just located in the jaws, they are on the side of your head, the back of your head, the neck and even behind your eyes.
Now if your bite is less than ideal, this complicated TMJ joint, and all those muscles can actually compensate for that. I think that is really cool. Unfortunately the muscles are often over worked in the process and become painful. Imagine what would happen to your bicep muscle if you held even a light weight in your hand for 24, or 48 hours without a rest. OOOOW! Now your head and neck muscles may have been working to compensate for your bite for years. I think you can begin to image that these muscles can easily get fatigued.
Soooooo, back to headaches: you know that muscle on the side of your head that hurts like crazy when you have a headache? The one right on your temple? Well it is part of the group that helps position the lower jaw. When it gets overworked…. headache pain.
How about those headaches that feel like they are right behind your eye. (man! I hate those!). There is a muscle behind your eye that is also part of the group of muscles that help compensate for a bad bite. If that becomes fatigued it can hurt and cause a headache. Even the muscles at the back of the head and neck are involved in helping to posture the jaw to compensate for the bad bite.
Ok. So how do we figure out if the bite is contributing to your headaches. We test the muscles. There is something called Electromyography which allow us to see the muscles in live action to see if there is unusual activity when you bite. There is also sonography, which is listening to the joint for uncharacteristic sounds, and also Jaw tracings to illustrate the movements of the jaw that are hard to see with just a visual exam. All of these tests get run through a computer and analyzed.
Once we know the origin of the problem then we can go about the business of making a diagnosis. If a bad bite (malocclusion) is contributing or causing the headaches we can make an appliance, or adjust the bite, or replace worn tooth structure. Whatever it takes to allow the muscles to rest. Rested muscles are happy muscles. I know this explanation is a bit simplified, but I don’t want to get too technical, or go on too long, so if you have any questions just give me a comment and I will get back to you. I will show you more about the way we analyse this complicated data on another post. Good Luck.