The way that your upper and lower teeth come together is called occlusion and is a vital part of a system which includes your teeth, muscles and joints. If you have a misaligned bite, your teeth do not fit together properly. The muscles and joints must work together to accommodate for the misalignment. A misaligned bite often leads to muscles that are overworked when they should be relaxed, leading to various painful conditions.
Most people don’t think to mention headaches to their dentists. Yet, tension headaches caused by muscle contraction is the most common form of headache. It typically results in pain on both sides of the forehead and can include pain and tightness in the neck as well. The temporalis muscle, located on the side of your head from the temple to just behind your ear, is the muscle group that is responsible for positioning your jaw. Simply stated, if your temporalis muscles have to work overtime to properly align your bite, they often go into spasm which in turn leads to pain.
Every part of your body works together to achieve a state of harmony. When one muscle group is having difficulties, others will work together to try to compensate to correct the problem. To demonstrate this, a group of scientists inserted a plastic filling in the tooth of a healthy rat and deliberately made it too thick to bite. X-rays of the rat before the filling showed the rat had a straight back and healthy limbs. A week after the insertion of filling, x-rays showed the rat’s back had curled up and the limbs were not functioning properly. The filling was then trimmed and balanced. After a week passed, the final x-ray showed the back and limbs had returned to normal. They concluded that the filling had caused the muscles and joints of the whole animal to accommodate. Once the filling was removed the accommodation was reversed.
When our jaw is closed, pressure sensors, located in gum tissue, can detect the presence of a foreign object the width of a human hair. Changes in the bite are not just limited to fillings. Improper bite can result from all kinds of dental interventions including removing teeth, getting braces, replacing teeth in a fixed bridge, having removable dentures. Natural wear due to grinding or clenching can also change the bite. When these things happen and change the occlusion, muscles and joints start to accommodate for the change. When the muscles overwork themselves the result is either cracked teeth or muscle ache.
Because improper occlusion is such a large issue in dentistry, Dr. Shirley Cheong and I spent lots of time studying Neuromuscular Dentistry. We are members of the International College of Cranio-Mandibular Orthopedics, a society of health care professionals who have a common interest in the anatomy and physiology of occlusion, jaw function and orthopedics dysfunction which result in symptoms in the head and neck.
We practice the Total Patient Care approach. As dentists, we are not just treating teeth. we take care of the total well being of your whole body. We look for signs that your body is not accommodating well and recommend treatment to rectify it. So don’t be surprised next time if we are taking photos of you standing or turning your head.
- Dr. Kenny Chan