Movement disorders and the mouth

A man with a movement disorderAustralians who suffer with movement disorders frequently experience involuntary and unpleasant bodily movements such as tremors, an abnormal posture and difficulty walking. In some cases it even affects their speech.  This blog will discuss how your mouth can play a vital role in various movement disorders. There are some conditions that can be greatly improved by providing proper jaw support!

These disorders are often classified as part of a diagnosed disease such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome and cerebral palsy. One particular movement disorder, Parkinson’s disease, is surprisingly common. I was shocked when I read the findings of the 2011 Australian Report on Parkinson’s disease. There are 30 people a day a diagnosed with this disorder. This translates to one in 350 Australians!

In Australia, a professional body exists called the Movement Disorder Society of Australia. They have a collective focus on better understanding and helping people suffering with movement disorders. The treatment options currently available include oral medications (muscle or nerve relaxants), injection therapy (with botox), deep brain stimulation and, when all else fails, ablative surgery. For those unfamiliar with medical terminology, ablative surgery refers to selective destruction of specific parts of the brain or nerves in the body to stop the movement disorder entirely. Any type of surgery carries with it the risks of infection, haemorrhage and even death.

One of the most important discoveries in recent times is the strong role that the mouth plays in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome. In a previous blog post, we were able to demonstrate that a “poor dental bite” was capable of being a major contributor to a crooked spine (called a scoliosis). Physical therapists such as an osteopaths or chiropractors will readily provide evidence that a twisted spine has a direct impact on the nerves of the body. Affected nerves can lead to malfunction of the body’s organs and glands. You may even have experienced a numbness down one side of the arm in the past: this is often directly related to compression of the lower neck spine.

Trigeminal NerveSo how can the mouth have an impact on movement disorders? Just as the rest of the spine, compression of a key nerve of the head called the trigeminal nerve can have similar devastating effects. Compression of the trigeminal nerve can easily occur from an insufficient vertical height of the mouth. This can be due to a narrow jaw, missing or worn down teeth. I have had a few patients with a hand or facial tremor that instantly stopped when the mouth was supported with cotton rolls. This gave me a vital clue that the muscular tremors were being caused by an over-closed mouth. Supporting the jaw reversed the tremors instantly! The treatment then involves providing proper jaw support in collaboration with other healthcare workers for permanent relief of these movement disorders. A diagram showing the distribution of the trigeminal cranial nerve to the face is shown on the left.

One of the prominent dentists who first created awareness in this field was Dr Brendan Stack and he has posted an impressive YouTube collection of successful treatment of certain movement disorders. I encourage readers to check out his short video clips showing several patients with near miraculous reversals of their chronic and debilitating movement disorders.

Whilst our understanding of movement disorders has increased substantially over the past few years, it is essential that our medical colleagues recognise the importance of the mouth during their routine assessment.  If you have recently been diagnosed with a movement disorder, and no good explanation can be offered for your symptoms, then it may be beneficial to consider if the mouth may hold the answer. The next time somebody tells you, “It’s all in your head”, it may be wise to reply, “Yes! Which part?”

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