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Talk about a bite

                                March 2007


Talk about a bite

Dentist Dr Bill Kellner-Read tells of the consequences of a bad bite


The Perfect Smile: A Consumer's Guide to Dental Health and Cosmetic Denistry

How are your teeth? Over the last twenty-five years, I have been treating head, neck and back pain of dental origin. A little-known fact is that the teeth help to stabilise the neck and back.

We all know this from lifting a heavy object. The first thing that we do is grit our teeth together to lock and stabilise the body ready for lifting. Imagine that you have no teeth or the heightof the bite is wrong, then the lower jaw will keep on travelling until it hits something. Unfortunately, this rather haphazard arrangement is not conducive to good biomechanics and you end up with a stiff neck, frozen shoulder, Bell’s palsy or all of the above!

Loss of teeth can result in damage not only to the jaw joints but also the bones of the neck. It was researcher Casey Guzay, a physicist, who worked out the relationship between the jaw and the neck. He showed that, as the bite deteriorates due to tooth loss or unfavourable dental restorations, the neck suffers.

The bite no longer stabilises the neck and normal movements of the cervical spine are changed. This change brings with it a breakdown of the surfaces of the vertebrae leading to pain, suffering and perhaps arthritis.

But that’s not all. Lack of a proper bite can also cause tinnitus, dizziness, distorted vision, facial pain and other symptoms.

The head and shoulder pain is mostly muscular in origin. With the poor bite, the muscles can no longer perform at their normal working and resting lengths. The muscles are asked to do a job that they weren’t designed for. The result, headaches plus a sore stiff neck and shoulders. Often as we grow older the headaches reduce, but the neck and shoulder pain persists.

So what can we do?

We need to restore the bite to its former glory, or at least as near as is possible. Normalisation of the bite helps reduce the wear and tear between each bone, while also reducing pain in the neck and back.

  • For those with full dentures, the dentures need to be constructed at the correct height. It is not sufficient to replace old dentures for new at the habitual heightof the bite.

  • The bite needs to be so constructed that the lower jaw is in a more correct position relative to the jaw joints and neck. This allows the neck and back to normalise and, with some help from a physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath or body worker, brings back function and mobility to the head and neck.

  • For those who still have existing teeth, you need to get the missing ones replaced with dentures, bridges or implants.

  • For the worn-down bite, crowns, inlays or building up the bite with white filling material will stabilise the bite, jaw and neck.

Two stages to restore the bite

It may be important to rebuild the bite in two stages. While this is not always necessary, in more difficult cases it helps to rule out guesswork. I have used dental splints for many years in this context. They are relatively easy to construct and can be thrown away at the end of treatment.

These splints are modified at each visit until the desired height and function is obtained. Once this has been achieved, then permanent work can be carried out. Many patients stay with splints and take the treatment no further. For this reason, our laboratory is working on hybrid appliances that are aesthetically more pleasing.

Change in facial appearance

Talking of aesthetics, one of the problems with losing teeth is the change in facial appearance. Whether the teeth have gone or are just worn down, the cosmetic result is the same. Lines, wrinkles and a grumpy countenance! Restoring the heightof the bite often works as a non-surgical face lift, increasing muscle activity and smoothing out those lines. While I am looking to restore good function, the cosmetic result is not such a bad bi-product.

So if you are suffering, head, neck and back pain, or simply just don’t like the way you look, then find a dentist who can help you make the changes that could change your life and bring joy back into your life. Be blessed.

Dr Bill Kellner-Read BDS is author of Toxic Bite and Chill Factor.




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