Straight Teeth Talk: Are you living with head and neck pain? There's help

Jan. 31, 2011 at midnight
Updated Jan. 31, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.

Mac Lee

Mac Lee

By Mac LeeDiscomfort in the head and neck can run from a scale of one to 10, with one being a simple nag to 10 being severe pain. These pains can vary from one day to the next, from one side to other side and from head to neck and vice versa. These variances cause great confusion and frustration for all.

Thinking the pain may be migraine, sinus and or tension headache, these sufferers seek medical advice. For a large percentage of them, X-rays, MRIs or CAT scans report nothing wrong. Because there is no solid diagnosis, there is no treatment other than medication. Many times the patient is advised to accept the fact they are going to be miserable all their life. It has been my experience that these sufferers additionally feel they are not being listened to or believed by their family, friends and doctors - a very frustrating reality for them.

The jaw is closed by a set of complicated muscles that reside in the head. Under certain conditions, these muscles can cause all of the symptoms described above. Special-trained dentists can help take away those pains. The analogy below is meant to help physicians and patients understand how the pains can be managed.


A closing jaw is like an airplane landing; as an airplane lands, the pilot has three movements he or she has to control. If she comes in too steep, there will be nose damage, and if the tail drags, it will be damaged. If she hits harder on the right, or left, the damage will correspond. If she comes in sideways, say with the nose way to the right and the tail to the left, no telling what will happen. These movements are called pitch, roll and yaw, accordingly. Thankfully, there is sophisticated electronics that let the pilot know which approach is the safest.

The jaw also has pitch, roll and yaw. As the lower teeth move toward the upper teeth for a "landing," the airplane principles apply. If the brain perceives that the front teeth are coming in for a crash landing, it uses specific muscles to pull the jaw backward. Have you ever seen the old World War II movies where the pilot is trying to pull the bomber out of a nose dive? He has to use all of his might and strength pulling on the throttle to save the plane and the lives of everyone on the plane. He is sweating, stressed to the max, and is working as hard as he possibly can.

The muscles of the temple are pilot muscles. Their job is to position the jaw by pulling it back. If the jaw is coming in for a nose dive, the temple muscles pull the jaw back just like the bomber pilot. If these muscles pull back 24/7, something has to give. The outcome is pain in the temple, ear, top of the head, etc.


With special technology, dentists can accurately measure the good or bad activity of the major muscles that open and close the mouth. We can tell if they are happy, upset or completely fatigued. We can also track your jaw movement in space the same as an air traffic controller tracks an airplane's exact location. It is fascinating to see and experience. The technology is called Neuromuscular Dentistry.

This computerized technology tracks your jaw and your muscle activity at the same time. The dentist looks for a jaw position where the muscles are the happiest. They record that position using putty like bite material that will hold the jaws at that particular position. From this, a special dental lab makes a plastic appliance that fits over the lower teeth much like a retainer. This "orthotic" will mimic a good solid bite, i.e., a solid landing, which in return will allow the muscles to stay happy, and happy muscles don't hurt, cause headaches or neck aches.

Next issue, I will discuss how and why teeth are destroyed by teeth that do not come together correctly.

Dr. Mac Lee practices dentistry in Edna. His website, is dedicated to sharing common sense dental education for the public. If you have dental questions, please visit the site or call him at 361-782-7191.



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