For many people, a headache is an inconvenience relieved with an everyday over-the-counter headache tablet with little thought as to the cause, often putting it down to stress and a hectic life schedule. For some people this may be the case, while others may wrongly attribute it to a neck or shoulder muscle problem. Very few would think their teeth and jaw could be the cause of their headache.

One of the most complex and utilised joints and muscle relationships in your body is that between your head, neck and jaw, and one of the most important is your Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). This is the ball and socket joint just in front of your ears on either side of your head and connects your jaw to your skull. It is this joint which enables you to talk, eat and most importantly laugh.

Temporomandibular Joint disorder (TMD) is the term used to describe an incorrect alignment of your teeth and jaw, which may be the cause of a myriad of significant oral and general health problems. Recurring headaches, especially in the morning, migraines, facial, neck and shoulder pain can all be symptoms of a misaligned bite and jaw. You may also experience limited jaw movement or a clicking sound when you eat, yawn and speak.

There are several influencing factors that can contribute to the development of TMJ disorders including:

  • Missing one or several teeth allows adjacent and opposing teeth to move out of alignment

  • Clenching and grinding of teeth (Bruxism)

  • Repetitive strain on the jaw muscles caused through stress

  • A jaw fracture or dislocation caused through an accident or sport injury

  • Degenerative bone disorders such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis

Dr Alistair Steel has a special interest in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ disorders and will conduct a thorough oral exam and review your medical and dental history before developing a personalised treatment programme with you. In addition to a physical exam, updated radiographs (x-rays) may also be taken, for some cases, study models of your teeth may be made to check your occlusion, how your teeth fit together when you bite.Most TMJ disorder treatment takes a conservative approach as many TMJ disorders are only temporary and therefore simple treatment methods are often the most appropriate. Although some relief can be experienced quickly, it may take some time to complete your treatment programme, especially if your TMJ problem has developed over a period of time.

The most important thing to do is adhere to your treatment plan even if symptoms seemed to have disappeared.

Your treatment plan may consist of one or several treatment methods and include:

Bite plate – A custom-made acrylic appliance used to reduce the pressure placed on the jaw and teeth. Usually worn at night when your bite force can be up to six times greater than that when you are awake. These will need to be adjusted regularly and monitored as your bite and jaw position changes during your treatment

Night guards – To reduce the impact grinding and clenching (Bruxism) causes on teeth and jaw muscles

Cold or warm packs – A cold or warm compress placed over the tender areas of your jaw muscles can assist with muscle relaxation
Relaxation massage – Gentle massage of your jaw joints and muscles can stimulate blood flow and aid in eliminating pain and stiffness

Diet – Modifying your diet to include soft foods and cutting your meals into smaller pieces in order to reduce the force required to chew. Avoid hard, chewy, sticky foods and chewing gum
Stress management – Implement relaxation therapy techniques to reduce stress and strain caused from clenching muscles

Medication – In more severe cases the use of medication may be prescribed for short-term relief and may include muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety medication. Ensure you take these only as directed

Surgery – Only in very rare and severe cases where no other treatment has been successful is surgery considered If you or a member of your family experience any of the listed symptoms or you suffer from recurring headaches, schedule an appointment with Dr Steel for an assessment of your TMJ.