ATLANTA - Cindy Loheide says she would wake up with a headache nearly every morning.
"They were just there, all the time," she says."Most of my headaches were right in here," Loheide says, gesturing to the right side of her jaw. "If you bite your jaw you can feel that muscle tighten up."
Diagnosed earlier with rheumatoid arthritis, the 47-year old stay at home mother is no stranger to pain.
But, her jaw was so tight, it was hard to eat.
Sometimes the headaches would be mild, sometimes debilitating.
"I went to the emergency room, I believe 3 different times, with a headache so bad, I had to have medicine," Loheide says.
Her dentist, Dr. David Lamothe of the Smyrna Dental and Implant Center, noticed Loheide's her bite was off, and her teeth were worn down and breaking.
"He asked me if I was chewing marbles at night," Loheide says. "And I said, 'I have not idea what I'm doing, but it's definitely something.' That's when he started asking about the headaches."
Dr. Lamothe suspected Loheide's off-kilter bite was the problem.
"First of all, when the bite is out of balance, it puts your joint, this temporomandibular joint, out of balance," Dr. Lamothe explains. "This joint is the most sensitive joint in the body. When it's not happy, nothing is happy."
Lamothe says Cindy was grinding her teeth because her jaws muscles were working overtime, trying to find a more comfortable bite.
TMJ pain affects about 15 percent of Americans, according to the American Dental Association.
Headaches and facial pain are both common symptoms of TMJ inflammation.
"The pain that they radiate goes from the shoulders to the top of the head, that's where the headaches from," he says.
Dr. Lamothe recommended a combined treatment to reduce the inflammation in Loheide's joint, using laser, ultrasound, and massage to relax her jaw muscles.
The goal, he says, is to get the muscles to quiet down.
"Get rid of the triggers," Dr. Lamothe says. "Get rid of the scar tissue that is built into them. Get rid of the lactic acid that is built into them."
He also gave Loheide a bite guard, to keep her from grinding and biting down on her teeth when she was sleeping. And, Lamothe reshaped some of her teeth, to create a more even bite. Cindy Loheide says it took some time, but the treatment worked. The headaches are gone.
"It's great, she says. "Life's great."