Why Your Jaw, Face, Head and Neck Might Hurt – and What We Can Do to Help
by P. Vernon Erwin, DDS
We regularly see clients in our office who have long histories of headaches and pain in the face, jaw, neck and shoulders. While many have sought help from numerous health care providers – both conventional and holistic – they have not found lasting relief. This is not necessarily because the practitioners were bad or providing useless therpaies. Indeed, the therapies often brought temporary relief. The problem is usually that they did not think of the dental perspective on chronic pain.
There are a number of dental conditions that can generate great joint and muscle pain not just in the face and jaw but throughout the body. The main ones include:
- Clenching, grinding and bruxing, often brought on by stress and maintained through sheer habit
- Malocclusion, or the state of the teeth not coming together properly, which may be due to tooth removal, ill-fitting restorations or the rupture of wisdom teeth
- Trauma, such as a blow to the jaw or whiplash, that has thrown the jaw out of alignment
Additionally, some inflammatory and autoimmune disorders can put stress on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and adjacent muscle groups, generating pain. Likewise, chronic pain throughout the body can be caused by mercury poisoning from amalgam fillings, in which case removal and replacement with nontoxic materials is required, along with detox. (See here for more on Dental Mercury Amalgam Syndrome.)
In cases involving physical trauma to the jaw, persistent conditions may lead to temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. Symtpoms of TMD include:
- Jaw noises, such as clicking or popping
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Jaw pain
- Earache or stuffiness
- Ringing in ears
- Non-restful sleep
When caused by habits stemming from emotional or mental stress, TMD may fade on its own once the stress abates or the individual becomes better able to manage it. But sometimes the damage from the physical stress results in enduring pain. In such cases, therapies are needed to correct the condition: restoring proper alignment or occlusion, as well as mitigating the effects of clenching, grinding and bruxing.
Until recently, diagnosing TMD was extremely difficult, dependent solely on a patient’s description of symptoms and physical examination of the face and jaw. Today, however, we have a great diagnostic tool: BioJVA, or joint vibrational analysis. It lets us take fast, non-invasive and repeatable measurements of a person’s TMJ function by determining the amount of vibration at the joints. Simply, when there’s stress on the TM joint or misalignment of the condyles, movement of the jaw causes friction, and thus, a bit of vibration – just like that caused when you rub any rough surfaces against each other. Further, different disorders – displacement, degeneration and so on – can have different vibration patterns. Thus, BioJVA lets us diagnose dysfunction more specifically – and so develop better treatment plans for fixing the problem. And because it’s repeatable, we can measure your progress throughout treatment.
Splint therapy is one of the most common and conservative measures taken to bring relief from TMD and readjust the jaw and related musculature. At the same time, treatments such as acupuncture and neural therapy may be pursued for immediate pain relief. A less well-known but extremely effective adjunct treatment is SCENAR therapy. This non-invasive, drug-free treatment comes courtesy of a device – the Neuro-SCENAR 97.4+ – that sends low voltage electrical signals to the brain via the nerves, activating the body’s ability to heal itself. The device taps into the natural pharmacy of the body, releasing bioactive neuropeptides that gradually and gently restore the body’s natural balance.
We also have a wonderful diagnostic tool for identifying occlusal problems that can contribute to TMD and other pain syndroms. Tek-Scan allows us to see exactly how your teeth come together – places where your bite may be “off” or where there is an imbalance of force when you close your jaw. It is important to have such conditions corrected via treatments such as myofunctional therapy, orthodontics and restorative dentistry (the type of therapy, of course, depends on the type and severity of malocclusion involved) since malocclusion can ultimately contribute to pain throughout the body. Simply put, when one part of your body is out of alignment – in this case, the vertical dimension of the teeth – you unconsciously adjust other parts of your body to minimize discomfort. Thus, pain that begins in the jaw may “migrate” down through the neck, back and even legs as you continue to compensate – changing your posture, changing your gait. In short, what begins in the jaw may not stay in the jaw.
This is perhaps even more the case when TMD-like symptoms results from cavitations – a condition known as NICO, which stands for neuralgia-inducing cavitational osteonecrosis. In plain English, this means dead and decaying bone that causes pain. Cavitations are literally holes in the jawbone that have not healed correctly. There are many causes, including dental trauma, gum disease and toxic assault, but they most commonly occur when a socket is not cleaned thoroughly after tooth extraction. Bacteria remain. And once healthy tissue grows over the surgical site, the hole is effectively sealed off. Conditions are ripe for increased infection. Locally, the infection continues to destroy the tissues within, and the waste from the dead and decaying tissues exacerbates the infection. Notably, this infection does not remain localized. The pathogens have access to the general circulation via the blood and lymph vessels. Where they go, what organs they affect and how depend on their type. (Learn more about cavitations here.)
Cavitations can be difficult to diagnose because they do not show up easily on standard x-rays. Other diagnostic tools must be used, the best of which is the Cavitat. This imaging system uses sonogram-like technology to detect areas of osteonecrosis and infections that are almost impossible to detect with x-rays. Once detected, the sites can be cleaned out and the body, unburdened of its toxic load so it can heal. Bar none, the Cavitat is the best too we have for identifying these otherwise hidden sites of disease.
If NICO indeed turns out to be the source of your pain, the cavitations should thus be thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected, removing the source of toxins. Combined with proper nutrition, supplementation and other therapies, this protocol effectively gets to the source of the problem. Additional SCENAR and splint therapy may also be used as adjuncts, depending on your specific situation and health history – that is, the set of unique factors that brought you to our office in the first place.
As always, a true biologic and integrative approach to healing must have this goal always in sight: promote healing by supporting the body and removing all root causes so that the body may mend, strengthen and thrive.