DEAR DR. BOLES: Lately, I’ve been having jaw pain and muscle spasms in my neck, especially after I’ve eaten something that requires a lot of chewing. I’ve lost a few teeth over the years and never bothered to get them taken care of. Could my missing teeth be causing the problem? – George, Meredith, NH
DEAR GEORGE: Yes! Missing or poorly aligned teeth are a common culprit for an improper or misaligned bite, which is a leading cause of orofacial pain. Since you notice these symptoms after prolonged chewing, your bite may be to blame.
Temporomandibular Disorder (also called TMD or TMJ) is a common condition that occurs when the joints, muscles, ligaments, and bones of the jaw are stressed due to injury, misaligned teeth, or arthritis. Telltale symptoms include jaw, ear, and neck pain, frequent headaches, pain when chewing, muscle spasms, and a clicking or popping sound when opening and closing the mouth.
For people who have an unstable bite, missing teeth, or poorly aligned teeth, chewing and swallowing cause the muscles to work harder to bring the teeth together. This extra work causes pain. While nighttime mouth guards and pain medications can help reduce symptoms, it is important to address the underlying reason for the pain.
The first step is to visit your dentist and describe your symptoms. He or she may take x-rays or make a cast of your teeth to see how they fit together.
One good option to repair your bite is to replace your missing teeth with dental implants. Implants can be used to replace a single tooth or multiple adjacent teeth. Once your teeth are correctly aligned, it will no longer hurt to chew, swallow, or open and close your mouth. As an added bonus, your smile will look terrific!