Dentist researching "missing link" for neurological disorders
Health: David Williams hopes work can lead to prevention, treatments
Wednesday, Apr 11, 2018 06:00 am
The path to a treatment for disorders like multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s could start in the dentist’s chair.
More than 30 years of research has led Okotoks dentist Dr. David Williams to believe he may have found a missing link between jaw clenching and bite problems and neurological disorders.
His theory is that jaw muscles can cause skull bones to move. As they do, they pull and compress the brain causing damage, which can lead to neurological disorders.
“My theory is based on trauma that’s present when no one is looking,” said Williams. “In other words, when you clench your teeth at night, the trauma happens to the teeth. But, when an MS patient clenches their teeth, they have trauma to the teeth, but the bones and the skull move and they have trauma to their brain. That’s the whole story.”
It’s a discovery he hopes will lead to successful approaches for treatment and prevention.
Williams’ research was outlined in a study published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Cranial Manibular Practice. He recently published an article outlining his work in the area in the March 2018 issue of the magazine Oral Health, a Canadian dental magazine.
Williams started his research in 1986 by studying how the human bite works.
He had three patients who had late-stage MS and, after checking their bites, he found them to be “off the charts” abnormal.
Williams couldn’t explain what he saw, so as part of his research he began dissecting cadavers of MS and Alzheimer’s patients, examining their skulls and bites in comparison to people who did not have the disorders.
In some cadavers he identified levels of movement in the skull beyond what would be normal. Williams said he found people clenching their teeth and jaw muscles can cause minute movements in their skull bones.
“We’re talking about people clenching their teeth at three o’clock in the morning,” he said. “Under this extreme clenching is where the damage is done, and it doesn’t happen just once. This is habitual. During the daytime, people clench during the daytime as well.”
As a child grows, Williams said the muscles in their skull grow and they should eventually fuse together at age 15.
However, he found the sutures between the bones in skulls of people who had MS and Alzheimer’s were not fused. The ridges and points of connections between the bones in their skulls were flatter, explained Williams, meaning the bones would be held together more by the ligaments between them. His findings were different in skulls of people who did not have neurological conditions, where the bones were physically held together as they should be.
Williams contended this is the result of forces exerted by the jaw muscles when people clench their teeth. The constant movement, he said, causes trauma.
His challenge, he said, was to prove that the movement can happen in real time in a living subject and to measure it. He wants to show that clenching teeth can cause abnormal fluid movement in a person’s head.
“I need to measure these bones moving live, in real time,” said Williams. “So I’m looking at an ultrasound that looks down at the suture… I’m planning a study that uses MRI to actually clock the fluid movements.”
After making his discovery about skull sutures, Williams went on to study neurological disorders. He discovered a pattern, where lesions and inflammation occur in the brain as a result of trauma.
Williams questioned whether the skull bone movement he found could cause trauma to the brain.
One way to put it, said Williams, is that the disorders would be the cumulative effect of micro-traumas over a long period of time.
“I’m proposing that this is the missing link and the reason I’m saying that is because neurological illness makes more sense with trauma as the basis,” he said. “It’s the simplest answer.”
Williams said his research has been largely dismissed by the medical community, while some in the dental community are open to the idea. He said he would also like to see more health professionals in a range of disciplines consider his theory.
“What this research reflects in a day-to-day basis in my treatment of patients is what I want to share the community of dentists, but I also need to share it with the chiropractors, and the osteopaths because it affects everything,” he said.
Translating his research into viable treatments is his ultimate goal.
It’s not a cure, but Williams believes his research could lead to prevention and treatments for people with neurological disorders. He doesn’t yet know exactly what it could look like, but he said it could involve a team of caregivers, including dentists, osteopaths, chiropractors or physiotherapists.
Figuring this out is the next phase of Williams’ research.
“The most exciting thing for me now is to be able to share this with the dental community,” he said. “And, not just the dental community. There’s chiropractors who work on the C-1 [vertebra]. There’s the osteopathic community, I’ve found an osteopath here in town that I’m very excited to work with.”
And, while some disorders have a genetic connection, he questioned whether his discoveries could lead to a way to mitigate against genetic factors.
After 30 years, he doesn’t have a definitive answer, yet. But for Williams it all comes back to the bite.
“Fix the bite, lock down the sutures, somehow, and then put the patient in recovery,” he said.