HEADACHES PART 3: FIVE SIMPLE TIPS TO PREVENT THE ONSET OF HEADACHES

So I’ve written about how chronic headaches affect our daily life in Part 1 of this series, and also about minimally invasive treatment options your dentist can offer you in Part 2. Here in Part 3, my aim is to clue you into a few simple things you can do on a day-to-day basis to manage your headaches.

ERGONOMICS: Work smarter, not harder. It’s my mantra and I am conscious of it on a daily basis. It is well known that people who work in the dental field have a high prevalence of neck and back pain. IMG_8861Dentistry is a profession that has many physical demands. Yes, I am a scientist, an artist, a psychologist, a salesperson and a doctor. But I am also called upon to treat my patients in reverse, looking upside down in a mirror, into a dark, wet, tiny space with saliva spraying all over and a tongue that just won’t stay still! So I use every tool at my disposal in order to do so ergonomically. From my stool that positions my body, head and neck into a comfortable position, to the comfortable clothes I wear and magnifying loupes with high power LED lighting I am always cognizant of the fact that if I want longevity in my profession, I need to work ergonomically. The same thing applies to everybody else as well. Studies show that a proactive approach to ergonomic workspace, reduces musculoskeletal pain and eye strain, and increases work productivity. Maybe put your computer screen on an elevated platform directly in front of your face, or hold your smartphone in front of your face instead of turning your head downwards to look at it. Position your seat, with lumbar support, so that your spine is aligned. All of these simply ergonomic positions will be sure to help you avoid headaches and other aches and pain in future.

GET YOUR EYES CHECKED: Although you may not need special magnifying loupes to see the computer screen or your smartphone, be sure that you are not squinting all of the time. Get your vision checked by an ophthalmologist or optometrist and be sure to get fitted for glasses or contacts. Also think about getting a larger computer screen to work on. What may seem like a nuisance now – like squinting because your computer screen is blurry – can become a severe pain in the neck literally! And headaches are sure to follow.

WOMEN – WEAR A SUPPORTIVE POSTURE BRA: If you’re a woman and well endowed, then you’re causing extra stress on your upper back, neck and shoulders. Be sure to find a brassiere that not only fits you well, but is supportive to help relieve the strain. To see if you’re bra is supporting you properly, a simple trick is to place your fingers underneath your bra strap and see if that relieves the pressure on your neck and shoulders. If it does, than you’re not wearing the correct bra. The posture bra is designed to hold the weight of your breasts in the band and the back, not the straps themselves. So if you have marks on your shoulder from digging bra straps then you’re more likely to experience the neck and shoulder strain associated with not wearing the correct bra. Posture bras are designed specifically to support the weight of breasts and provide relief from neck strain, shoulder strain and muscle tension headaches.

USE THE CORRECT PILLOW WHEN YOU SLEEP: Support from pillows is essential in getting a good night’s rest. If you sleep on your back, your side or your stomach be sure to find the pillow that will give you the best support for your head and neck. This way your neck and shoulder muscles won’t be straining to support you while you rest. You can also try a pillow between your legs if you sleep on your side, or under your knees if you sleep on your back, as well as a rolled up towel under your lower back to ensure proper support during slumber.

I know my patients are generally nervous when they come to see me for dental treatment. So in order to relieve their stress and make them as comfortable as possible, I give them a leg support pillow, a lumbar pillow and a neck pillow to support them. This way their experience is less stressful. In fact most of my patients tend to fall asleep and even snore while laying back in my chair, that’s how relaxed they are!

STRETCHING EXERCISES: I try to do these on a daily basis, especially during a long case. I get up for a couple of minutes in the middle of a long treatment with a patient, and this allows me to get my stretches in as well as allows the patient to rest their jaw for a bit. This way we both feel better after a short break. I like to stretch my neck, arms and shoulders. #11 in the diagram below is one of my favorites. And I do it at shoulder height, above my shoulders and below to thoroughly stretch my entire shoulder muscle. Try doing these a few times a day during working hours, and you’ll see how refreshed you’ll feel afterwards!

Stretching

I hope these 5 tips were helpful. You’ll see that if you incorporate these into your daily rituals, you will have less headaches and feel better overall!

Toot-a-loo,

Dr. Meli

HEADACHES PART 2: HOW CAN A VISIT TO THE DENTIST HELP ME?

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In my last blog, I talked about the consequences daily headaches have on our daily lives, such as decreased productivity at work, and increased dependency on pharmaceutical remedies. Wouldn’t it be great if there were other, more conservative treatment options available to us?

Good news! There are many things you can do to start treating the cause of the headache, and not just its symptom of pain.

STRAIGHTEN/ALIGN YOUR TEETH: As I mentioned in my previous blog, aligning your teeth will not only ameliorate your headache issue, but it will help you in other numerous ways. You will be able to chew your food better. Maybe you’ve been unable to bite into a hearty sandwich until now because your front teeth had a huge open space (open bite). Or you were scared to eat that crusty French bread because you couldn’t incise it due to your open bite. Once your teeth are properly aligned, you’ll be able to eat anything you want to again!

Also, you’ll be able to preserve any past and future dental restorations (crowns, fillings, bridges, partial dentures) for much longer. If your teeth hit in a malaligned position, then you concentrate the forces in a pinpoint area and the you’ll wear away your enamel or filling material much faster. You’ll also start to break the porcelain off your crowns and bridges. However, when your teeth are aligned in a healthy position, you’re causing less wear and tear, and your teeth in general will last much longer!

Finally, you’ll decrease your risk of getting gum disease (periodontitis). If your teeth are crowded and malaligned, then they essentially become food traps. This food that gets trapped there, feeds the naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth, which then turns into plaque and tartar. Also, it’s much tougher for your to keep clean with flossing and brushing alone. Once tartar has formed, it travels down the root, underneath the gums. This is a chronic infection that doesn’t really cause any pain, but it eats away at the bone that houses your teeth. Also untreated gum disease is directly linked to high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and angular glaucoma.

BOTOX TREATMENT: Although not many dentists offer this treatment option, it is a very valuable one. After all, we are responsible for your head and neck health, and that includes the oral cavity as well.

It is a non-invasive, quick treatment that can have tremendous effects on your headaches. Botox allows us to relax your muscles, so if you clench or grind your teeth, it will minimize the effects of your habit. Also, if you are a migraine sufferer, who pays up to $300 per pill in order to get migraine relief, then this treatment will definitely minimize the number of days you’ll experience migraines. And instead, you may only experience a small headache instead, or no pain at all! I have patients that were paying thousands of dollars a month to take a single pill for each chronic migraine episode. Now instead, they only use it a few times a month if at all.

ORAL APPLIANCES: Once your teeth have been aligned, be sure to complete any necessary dental restorations, and then use a custom made oral appliance, such as a retainer or occlusal guard to maintain your bite in it’s correct position. If you’re planning on having any cosmetic dentistry done, such as porcelain jacket crowns or veneers, then having an oral appliance that you use at night is imperative! All of my patients that have cosmetic dentistry completed, are always prescribed and oral appliance in order to maintain the investment they made in themselves.

So, as you can see, there are various, truly minimally invasive treatment options that, as a dentist, I can and do offer my patients. Ultimately you’ll get a straight smile and wrinkle-free younger looking appearance overall – but that is just the icing on top. My main goal is to give my patients a healthy, functional smile; and if I can help them make feel better about themselves along the way, then it’s all the more fulfilling for me.

Don’t forget to check out Part 3 of this series coming next!

Toot-a-loo,

Dr. Meli

HEADACHES PART 1: HOW TO FEEL BETTER FASTER

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We all get headaches, and as a population we are experiencing them with more severity and frequency than ever before. The stresses of life have increased exponentially over the years. Many of us sit in front of computers for work, look at our tablets and smartphones non-stop, and are on the go constantly.

So then we turn to pharmaceuticals, prescribed and over the counter, to help relieve the discomfort. But in doing so we are only treating the symptom, not the cause. Studies show the increased use of anti-migraine medications like triptans and ergot alkaloids. Although preventive therapies such as the use of anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, beta blockers and calcium channel blockers have increased in usage as well, they remain pharmaceutical solutions to an ever growing ubiquitous problem.

We take off time from work when we go to numerous doctor appointments, get myriad of tests, and they continue to all show no conclusive results as to the why we keep feeling so bad. We go to the chiropractor, the physical therapist, the masseuse, but achieve only temporary results. A study, which reviewed over 144 million patient visits, shows a persistent overuse of low-value, high-cost services, such as advanced imaging (i.e. CAT scans, MRIs) and the prescription of opioids and barbiturates.

So, we have decreased productivity not only from missing work, but also due to the constant pain we experience while at work. How can we stop this vicious cycle and actually get to feeling better and being more productive?

I recommend a visit to the dentist! The majority of headaches, and head and neck pain in general, is directly linked to your bite (occlusion). Not only can we alleviate the discomfort, but also fix the root of the problem – how your teeth come together.

If teeth are misaligned, then the forces from regular everyday chewing, as well as grinding and clenching (bruxism) will exacerbate those forces and how they affect the longevity of your teeth. When your teeth are not aligned in a healthy position, it will cause your enamel to wear and break off. Also, your facial musculature and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) will adjust to an malaligned occlusion, and that’s why you feel tightness in the muscles, and pain. This pain then radiates down into the neck and shoulders, as well as up to the head thereby causing headaches and/or migraines.

So don’t just treat your headaches by popping some pills, or getting a massage. Get dental care to align your teeth into their proper healthy position, then get an oral appliance to ensure that they stay that way and to protect your teeth for the future. Including a daily head & neck stretching routine, as well as limiting your time in front of the computer, or looking down at your smartphone or tablet, will greatly decrease your risk of getting a headache.

Be sure to check out the next installment in my series of how to conservatively treat headaches and neck pain without popping pills regularly. I’ll include other treatment options, as well as tips as to what you can do on a daily basis to keep yourself headache free!

Toot-a-loo,

Dr. Meli