Headaches

There are many types of headaches, and many different causes. What they all have in common is the disruption they can cause in your day, mood, and ability to function normally. While many headaches are multifactoral, muscular tension is very often a significant contributing factor. Most commonly, facial pain and temporal headaches (like the one pictured to the left) are due to muscle tension in the group of muscles known as the Muscles of Mastication. "Mastication" is the scientific word for "chewing". The muscles that close and open your mouth are designed to function in harmony with the shape and position of your teeth and the jaw joints. When this is the case, the muscles remain relaxed and pain free. But when there is disharmony between the joints and the teeth, the muscles have to work overtime to be sure your teeth to come together safely every time. The lower jaw is a horseshoe shaped bone with rounded, ball shaped ends that fit into corresponding sockets in the base of your skull, just in front of your ears. If you place your fingers there, you can feel the movement of the joint as you open and close. When you open, the ends rotate in the socket. As you open wider, they also slide down and forward along the very slippery surface of the socket. This complex movement allows for a greater range of motion. Ideally, as the muscles then lift your lower jaw up to meet the upper jaw, they also pull the ends of the lower jaw back up the slope and all the way up into the socket. This happens every time you close your mouth unless something gets in the way of allowing all your teeth to come together with the joint in this position. If you teeth are not aligned perfectly, you may only hit on one spot as you close. To prevent damaging that single contact point, your jaw will automatically shift down and forward to allow as many teeth as possible to come together in unison. There is one relatively small muscle responsible for shifting your jaw forward and down the slope as all the large closing muscles fight against it.  This tug of war has consequences. The end result of this disharmony depends on the weakest link in the chain. Some people wear down or break their teeth in an attempt to grind them into harmony with the fully seated joint. Others get loose teeth, as they simply move out of the way as the jaws come together. Often, headaches are the result as these overworked muscles fatigue and spasm. The pain in the chewing muscles that attach your forehead, cheekbones, and temples to your lower jaw is how many of us experience headaches. It has been our repeated experience that we are often able to significantly decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of our patients' headaches by balancing their bite so that they can realize occlusal harmony, and their muscles can rest.