Q&A With Dr Emma
Hello Dr Emma, I have been having a lot of jaw pain and my partner tells me he has heard me grind my teeth in my sleep. I have been getting quite a few headaches which are always worse when my jaw hurts. Over the past few years I have noticed these symptoms are always worse around exams times. Should I see a dentist? Beaudie from Rivervale, WA.
The short answer is… yes! You should also strongly consider a visit to your medical GP, as there are causes of chronic headaches that are well outside the bounds of dental practice. Orofacial pain is an extremely complex topic. Patients often have multiple things going on that are contributing to their pain.
There are lots of conflicting theories about causes and treatments, and unfortunately the scientific evidence hasn't given us any clear answers yet. To me, this points to it being a complex problem that requires individual management rather than a "one size fits all" approach.
Some things that can contribute to orofacial pain are:
Jaw joint (TMJ) dysfunction
With this in mind, patients often require a multi-disciplinary approach to ease their symptoms. Some of the professionals that your doctor or dentist may recommend seeing include a psychologist to help with stress management, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, chiropractor, or even an orofacial pain or TMJ specialist. Be prepared to try a few therapies before you discover what works for you, and bear in mind it may take a combination of things.
Something that is certain is that people who grind their teeth in their sleep are more often than not damaging their teeth in the process. Your dentist will be able to examine your mouth for signs of tooth grinding, known as "bruxism", and assess the need for intervention. If it looks like you are grinding your teeth, wearing an occlusal splint at night will protect your teeth from further wear or cracking. An occlusal splint is a little bit like a mouthguard, but made out of hard plastic and only covers the biting surface of the teeth rather than extending up over your gums. They are usually made to fit over your top teeth, but they can be made for the lower teeth depending on the patient's individual needs. There is a lack of evidence to show that an occlusal splint will stop everyone from grinding or relieve headaches, but it will protect your teeth.
I consider myself a world champion when it comes to bruxism. I had my first occlusal splint made when I was only 10 years old, and it's taken me a while to find what therapy works for me. I manage my bruxism and headaches with a combination of relaxation, exercises, stretching, an occlusal splint, and regular chiropractic adjustments. I hope this sets you on the path to finding what works for you. Everyone deserves to to be pain free.