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Could your teeth be causing headaches

Many people have migraine-like headaches and most have no idea what causes them. Few would suspect that the cause of their headaches is actually in their mouths. I routinely ask patients during an initial comprehensive examination if they suffer from headaches. Many report that they do get them on a regular basis, but are quick to say that the headaches are caused by tension, or allergies, or that they are related to their sinuses.

I have observed in my practice over the years that well over 90% of my patients grind or clench their teeth when they sleep – a condition called bruxism. Bruxism is defined as the unconscious habit of gritting or grinding teeth. Because it is an unconscious habit, most people are totally unaware that this is happening. It is only after the front teeth become shorter and flattened that people become aware that grinding has been occurring. However, dentists are trained to look for the early signs.

So, what is it that causes us to brux? Many have assumed that it is the stress in our lives that causes the grinding, but it actually has a more physiologic basis. Ideally, the two jaw joints and the bite should function in total harmony. This in-coordination between the jaw joints and the bite causes the chewing muscles to be in distress. Muscles are continually working to even the bite and making it possible for the joints and teeth to work together. Although stress is not the cause of the bruxing, it certainly is a contributing factor that can make the bruxing phenomenon more aggressive.

This tension in the mouth is like an ongoing battle among the jaws, jaw joints, muscles and teeth. It is a major cause of many headaches that people experience. Aside from the headaches, the effects of bruxing cause clicking, popping and pain in the jaw joints (often called TMJ), broken fillings, cracked teeth, loosened teeth, along with constant wearing and flattening of the teeth.

There are two approaches to dealing with bruxing. An indirect method involves construction of a plastic mouth guard that is placed over the upper or lower teeth to be worn while sleeping. A more direct solution and one that has more lasting, permanent benefits involves a dental treatment plan that evens the bite and establishes harmony between the teeth and the jaw joints. By correcting the bite, headache problems often eliminated, and related problems are reduced as well. Patients experience less pain and headaches throughout their life, as well as less expense and inconvenience from recurring dental problems.

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