A Stressful Condition: Clenching & Grinding

Headaches from tension or stress are not normal. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is not right. If you have pain, tension, or tightness above your eyes, the sides of head or temples, the back of your head, or around your shoulders and neck, something is going wrong with the way your muscles are working. It usually has something to do with the fact that you do not breathe through your nose properly.

It probably started when you were very little, just born to 3 years of age. Something was not letting you breath through your nose. It could have been tonsils and adenoids that were too large, a deviated septum, large turbinates (cartilage in your nose), or another host of reasons. But you were too young to tell your parents something was not right. You may have even had your tonsils looked at for infection and told they were fine. But it was their size that was the problem. OK, so you can’t get enough air through your nose. That means you have to breathe through your mouth. But your body wants the air to go through your nose so it starts asking more muscles to help, mostly your shoulder, neck, and facial muscles. So now you are using you facial muscle to not only smile but also to breath. But they are not made for this. So they start being over used and staying contracted and tight. To add to your problem your tongue is now going down and forward to get out of the way so you can breath. Try this. Put your teeth together and swallow. Your tongue should go to the roof of your mouth. If it pushes on your teeth, that is a good reason why your teeth may be crooked, or you had braces when you were little. The main reason people get braces for crowded teeth are because they can’t breathe through their nose. But the braces does not solve the problem, it just straightens your teeth, for a time.

So now you are in your twenties and your tongue has repositioned your teeth and your facial muscle are constantly being overworked to help you breath. But they are like any other muscle. If you over work them or use them in the wrong way, they will cramp up. That is your headache. Many migraines are actually acute spasms of your facial muscles. Or you keep taking allergy medicine because you feel you have seasonal allergies. This may be the case. If you pain is below or behind your eyes, it is probably allergies. But if it is around your temples, above your eyebrows, or behind your head, it is not allergies.

Now you are in your late twenties or early thirties and a new problem starts to show up. The hard enamel on the top of you bottom front teeth and the back of your top front teeth starts to wear away. It does not look like much and your teeth don’t hurt. You may have a little bit of your roots starting to show and maybe even a little sensitivity every now and then to cold. But it is easy to ignore. Your bite has changed so you are not using you teeth the right way. Back teeth are designed to break things. SO when they touch food or themselves they send a signal to you facial muscle to squeeze. This is why you do not have to think about chewing, it happens automatically. Your front teeth are made to cut through food and send a signal to your facial muscles to relax. This is why you can gently bite something off a fork with out cracking your teeth. But you have worn down you front teeth to the point where the back and front touch at the same time. SO you facial muscles get both signals, squeeze and relax. But they choose the squeeze signal every time. So now you have worn off your hard enamel covering of your back teeth and your front teeth and you jaw may actually “pop” now and then. You may be diagnosed as having “TMJ” at this point. The tradition method is to make you a hard “splint” which covers all of your top or bottom teeth. You probably wear this at night. But because you back teeth touch it, you still squeeze on it. This is why they often times do not work or they are uncomfortable. But it is better to wear and crack your “splint” than your teeth.

Now you are in your forties and fifties. Your teeth are always clean and you get great checkups. But you have a bunch of fillings in you back teeth and maybe even some crowns. You felt this was just part of getting older. Your recession is a little worse because the bone around your teeth is shrinking away due to the years of too much pressure. The gum tissue is attached to your bone so it shrinks with it exposing your roots. You may even be causing your teeth to flex and bend. This causes little notches to form in your teeth near your gums. These may or may not be sensitive. You may have had a few filled in but they keep coming out. You may even be developing “tori” around the bottom of your jaw, just under your tongue. These are small to large lumps of bone that grow outward. Don’t worry, these never become cancer and can be easily removed if you like. You probably have never even noticed them.

This process just continues until most are all of your teeth have to be restored. But it can be stopped at any time.

SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?

If you are still in your twenties or thirties, you should get an evaluation by an Ear Nose & Throat doctor. While having your airway cleared will not put your teeth back together, it will make you sleep and feel much better. Make sure to ask your doctor about your nose being blocked, not just are your tonsils infected. If you are in your forties your body will probably have adapted itself to your breathing condition. But you should still be checked for sleep apnea. This is a condition where you stop breathing for brief periods while you sleep. Sleep apnea seems to be associated with TMJ problems.

A NTI appliance will help you greatly. http://www.headacheprevention.com/ This device is a small splint that only fits on your front. If differs from traditional TMJ splints in that it is small and only the front teeth touch it. This will signal the facial muscles to stop squeezing.

Putting your bite back together. The NTI is a wonderful appliance. The problem is that once you take it out, you are back where you started. SO it only works while you are wearing it. Putting you bite back together involves getting the back and front teeth to touch at the right times. This could involve anything from simply adjusting your teeth to replacing fillings to veneers and crowns to braces. Every case is different. The key is to do as little as possible inorder to make you bite as stable as possible.

You may also need to follow up with a physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist to make sure the muscles of your neck and back are working properly.

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