Do Your Migraine Headaches Have a Dental Cause?

By: Jennifer Kimberley

Have you been suffering from chronic, severe headaches for a while? Have you been to see a doctor about them, or maybe more than one doctor? Have you been given a prescription for a painkiller as the treatment?

The painkiller no doubt worked in the short term, and you felt better and could function more effectively for as long as it worked. But did the headaches continue to happen and continue to have no apparent cause?

If you are answering Yes to any of these questions, you could well be suffering from TMD, which stands for Temporomandibular Joint Disorder.

What is TMD?
It is a misaligned jaw joint. If you place a finger in front of your ear and open your mouth, you will feel the jaw joint move. It's a delicate, ball-and-socket joint that connects the lower jaw to the skull. When it is out of alignment, the lower jaw opens and closes wrongly. The jaw muscles which move it keep trying to move it correctly and become strained over the months and years, so that inflammation builds up.

There are several large nerves which branch out through the face, head, jaw, neck and shoulder areas. If one branch of a nerve is compressed by inflammation and swelling, you feel pain in other parts of that same nerve. When the jaw muscles become chronically strained and inflamed, you have chronic and increasingly severe pain, and any of a long string of TMD symptoms.

TMD Symptoms
Headaches are the most common symptoms, and they are typically severe and chronic. They are often referred to as Migraine Headaches, although strictly speaking they are not, because their cause is dental. Other common TMD symptoms are:
&bullJaw pain
&bullFacial pain
&bullNeck and shoulder pain
&bullTingling in the hands and fingers
&bullEaraches
&bullRinging in the ears
&bullNoises in the jaw joint that sound like popping or clicking
&bullPremature wear on some or all of the teeth
&bullDepression
&bullHabitual tooth grinding
&bullMisaligned teeth
&bullLoose or even lost teeth

Neuromuscular Dentistry
Not every dentist is a neuromuscular dentist. Post-graduate education is required to become a properly-trained neuromuscular dentist and the school of choice for this advanced training is the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (LVI). To diagnose TMD, special equipment is necessary, which is a large investment. If you think you have TMD and would like to be examined for it, choose an LVI-trained dentist.

Diagnosing TMD
The state-of-the-art TMD diagnostic equipment is called the K7 Evaluation System. While you relax in a chair, your neuromuscular dentist will use various lightweight attachments to:
&bullMeasure and record your jaw muscle movements
&bullMeasure and record all electrical activity in those muscles
&bullRecord all sounds in the two jaw joints, one on each side of the head

This information can be printed out in a Patient Format which is understandable. Your neuromuscular dentist would study and analyze all this information to determine exactly how your jaw joints are out of alignment, and where the relaxed position would be. If you have TMD, your jaw muscles have probably not been relaxed for many months or years. But they do have a correct, relaxed position, and it is part of TMD diagnosis to find that position.

Another piece of technology often used in diagnosing TMD (and in treating it later), is a TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation). This small device has several electrodes which will be placed on the head and neck areas. They deliver mild electrical stimulation on and off, which contracts and relaxes the jaw muscles. After 30 or 40 minutes, those muscles relax entirely and your pain will be gone.

TMD Treatment
Each TMD treatment is individual, as each person has a unique misalignment and combination of symptoms. However, the goal of all treatments is to establish the relaxed jaw position permanently. That involves many possible treatment steps, such as retraining the jaw muscles, recontouring teeth, perhaps some orthodontic work on the teeth, and use of a customized orthotic at night to help against tooth grinding while you sleep.

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