Millions of Americans are treated for headaches annually. The most common headache, tension headaches, can be directly related to clenching your teeth. These headaches are characterized by pain in the temporalis region (sides of head), neck and shoulder tension, and can be chronic or episodic. Some of our patients clench during the night, but most clench during the day (2:1). Most of our patients are not aware they are clenching their teeth. Some report a "click or pop" when opening or closing, however, we don't treat the "popping" sound itself. The pop is created from previous trauma, or the effect of tight muscles working against your jaw joint, commonly referred to as the TMJ. The popping sound may be indicative of future joint breakdown in some individuals.
The initial step for treatment involves having an orthotic splint made for your teeth. The orthotic is commonly referred to as a "nightguard, biteguard, or splint." Similar to the over-the-counter splints, our orthotic creates a barrier in between your teeth. Through the process of fabricating your orthotic, we perform muscle analysis, bite analysis, and joint analysis to assist us in diagnosis and finding the root problem.
The reason why our orthotic splints improve the painful muscle symptoms can be described by Isaac Newton. Newton stated on a class II lever, like a nutcracker, the closer that you get to the hinge the more power is translated. The reason clenchers get headaches are because they are squeezing their back teeth together, directly under the hinge in your anatomy. The hinge is your joint, close to molars. By redistributing the forces onto your front teeth ( no power), we can effectively decrease the tension in muscles.
Our orthotic splint is much different than the over-the-counter models because we personalize where your clenching forces make contact against the guard. This effectively shuts the "clenching" muscles down, relieving the patient's tension. Essentially, we remove the strong contacts from your back teeth against the guard. This moves the forces out on your front teeth. Your front teeth do not have the same power as your back teeth nor do you have the same squeezing force. The decreased force of clenching and grinding, relieves muscles from strain. This removes the tension in the head, neck and shoulders drastically.
The education and explanation of clenching and grinding help patients deal with their habit. Stretching exercises, heat application, and even changing posture (holding children, carrying heavy purse, wearing large heals) will help our patients reduce the number and intensity of headaches, neck and shoulder tension. Stress reducers and living in the moment are also discussed in helping our patients understand the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. If you are having headaches on the sides of your head you may blame them on stress which is entirely possible. Stress makes us clench and grind our teeth. There are many other reasons why patients clench and grind their teeth. The importance is to protect your teeth from damage, protect your muscles from overuse which cause headaches and degrade the joint, and to assist in reducing tension.