Do you have chronic back pain with no apparent cause? Did you know that your chronic pain could actually be related to your oral health? Unfortunately, many people with chronic back pain tend to avoid going to the dentist because sitting in the dental chair can make their back pain worse. However, spinal specialists, pain management specialists, and dentists all agree that avoiding the dentist is a bad idea for both your oral health and back pain.
This is because there is a close relationship between chronic back pain and dental problems. Understanding this relationship is important for managing both your oral health and chronic back pain. Here are some key facts that you should know about the connection between back pain and dental problems:
Medications for chronic back pain can increase the risk of dental problems
Many people suffering from chronic back pain are on medications to help decrease the severity and/or frequency of their symptoms. An unfortunate side effect that is commonly experienced from these medications is dry mouth. Dry mouth occurs when the body is unable to produce enough saliva. Since saliva is responsible for keeping the mouth moist, clean, and at a balanced pH, a lack of saliva production can have several consequences to your oral health. For starters, dry mouth significantly increases the risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. Additionally, dry mouth can also interfere with swallowing and speech, alter your ability to taste, increase the rate of enamel erosion, and cause chronic inflammation inside the mouth.
People with chronic back pain have higher rates of tooth loss
As mentioned above, medications used to treat chronic back pain commonly cause dry mouth as a symptom, which increases the rate of enamel erosion, compromises the mouth’s ability to clean itself, and leads to chronic inflammation inside the mouth. This, combined with the fact that many people with chronic back pain tend to avoid going to the dentist regularly, drastically increases the risk of tooth loss and/or the need for tooth extractions. Tooth loss can be the result of severe tooth decay, periodontal disease, or a combination of both. Severe periodontal disease, in particular, causes the supportive structures around the tooth to deteriorate. This causes the tooth to become loose so that it either falls out or needs to be extracted.
Chronic back pain can be caused by dental problems
While the first two facts revolve around how your dental health is affected by chronic back pain, this fact looks at how your dental health can possibly be contributing to your back pain. When pain originates in or around the mouth, but is felt in the back or neck, this is known as referred pain. Although this seems odd, it makes sense when you consider the arrangement of the nerve fibers and how they communicate pain signals. One common cause of chronic back or neck pain is actually dysfunction in the jaw joint. Dysfunction in the jaw joint applies more pressure onto the facial muscles, which then apply more pressure on the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and back to compensate. As these muscles become tired, they can cause chronic pain to develop in the back and neck. In some cases, properly aligning the jaw joint helps to improve function and decreases the amount of strain being exerted on the surrounding muscles. Over time, this can reduce or eliminate chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.
Overall, if you are experiencing chronic back pain, it is important to continue seeing your dentist regularly once every six months. At the very least, regular dental visits and good oral hygiene can help to decrease your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. It can also reduce your need for lengthy dental procedures that could aggravate your back pain. In some cases, your dentist may also be able to identify and treat jaw joint dysfunction in order to actually help alleviate some of your chronic pain.
Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry. He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.