Cranial Osteopathy & Dentistry

Cranial Osteopathy and Dentistry

As a cranial osteopath, the discovery that there are enlightened dental practitioners who have a similar understanding of the complexity and delicacy of structure together with the physiological functioning of the face and jaw came as a huge relief. The importance of the link between cranial osteopathy and dentistry cannot be overstated.

Cranial osteopaths understand that the bones of the face, in common with those in the rest of the skull, are free to move minutely, which they do in a rhythmical fashion. This small but vital tide of motion is usually called the Involuntary Mechanism or IVM for short. Osteopaths have been helping patients with subtle manipulation of this since Dr Sutherland first explored the concept in the early part of the last century. If this movement is interfered with significantly then there can be wide reaching effects not just in the local area but in the whole body. The relationships allowing motion between the bones of the face are particularly complex: studies in this field show that amongst other mechanisms, an ingenious system of shock absorbers exist that allow the strong forces of chewing to take place without disturbing the rest of the skull. Some of the bones involved are particularly delicate, and are not resilient to forces for which they were not designed, such as those involved in some dental work. Trauma is the most common way to upset the way the body works. Facial trauma is particularly poorly tolerated, and the most common form of facial trauma is dental work. This may be starting to sound like all dental work is traumatic and unnecessary, which is patently ridiculous. Anyone who has ever experienced the pain of an abscess under a tooth knows this without a shadow of a doubt. Much dental work is skilfully performed with the minimum of stress. However, some of the procedures are poorly tolerated by the body, as any cranial osteopath will tell you.

Here are some common problems. Extraction of teeth, particularly wisdom teeth, put very strong forces through some delicate bones with complex functional relationships. If these are disturbed, sinus, ear problems, headache, migraine, neck and back pain can result. Sometimes this occurs not for some time after the procedure, perhaps even years later. Any rigid appliance that goes across from one side of the mouth to the other in the upper jaw can interfere with an important articulation in the midline of the face leading to similar problems. Orthodontic work if performed without an understanding of the principles laid out here can be particularly severe in its consequences, and very often unsuccessful to boot. Moving teeth involves strong forces over a protracted period. Temporomandibular dysfunction is a common feature, together with the above-mentioned symptoms around the head but also very often other problems throughout the body. These can include painful joints, irritability, poor concentration and lowered immunity.  One typical clinical example familiar in essence to many of my colleagues would be the teenage girl who develops painful periods and extreme moodiness after braces are fitted. Osteopathic palpation will usually reveal a compression affecting healthy functioning of the pituitary gland and therefore hormonal balance elsewhere as well. A dental physician familiar with this work would also make the connection. Sadly this type of problem is often missed and the individual is not able to thrive in the way she otherwise might. In short, cranial work is very often indicated after dental work, and sometimes both before, during and after.

Now perhaps the reader is thinking that cranial osteopathy is solely involved in mopping up problems caused by albeit occasionally necessary dental intervention. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is much fertile ground for co-operative work to the great and sometimes lifelong benefit of patients. Inevitably problems such as temporomandibular dysfunction, overcrowding of teeth and poor facial development are associated with pre-existing stresses and compressions within the cranial mechanism. If these are treated alongside the dental work it will greatly speed and enhance good results – not just with the teeth too. Craniomandibular dysfunction is strongly associated with many other issues. Dyspraxia and dyslexia in children, visceral and musculo-skeletal problems in adults, to name just a couple. A significant and growing number of dental physicians work alongside cranial osteopaths with these issues in mind. This co-operative mutual understanding can be beneficial in many other ways. As the saying goes, prevention is better than a cure.

In terms of time treating relative to health benefits accrued, the cranial osteopaths’ most useful work by far is with the newborn. Study of the mechanics of birth and babies’ anatomy show that they are well adapted to withstanding the rigours of the process. Nevertheless the forces involved are strong and retained compressions and distortions do cause problems. These can be corrected much more easily and fully when the work is done in the first few weeks. There exist other windows of opportunity for hugely useful treatment. During pregnancy, appropriate osteopathic intervention will in my opinion increase the likelihood of a straightforward delivery. Also when the child is young, growth spurts, inevitable knocks and bumps and eruption of teeth all change mechanics in the body and can cause problems. Judicious cranial treatment in effect removes any braking forces from growth and development. Bodies, bones of the face included, reach far more of their genetic blueprint’s potential. Hard to treat occlusal/dental problems become far less likely. Dental intervention is therefore less often necessary, and less radical when it is. In short, the greater understanding that this work is enabling will help practitioners help patients achieve more of their full, truly remarkable potential as human beings.

On a personal note that is why I am involved in what I do. It is why osteopathy has held my otherwise fickle attention for thirteen years. It is also why I am lucky enough to love my work.