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Jeff Thorfinnson, a dentomandibular rehabilitation therapist, uses ultrasound technology to break up scar tissue and deep adhesions in Chris Langei's neck muscles as part of Tru-Denta, a treatment. The treatment has relieved chronic headaches after a serious car accident. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

East Grand Forks dentist offers option for treating chronic head, face and neck pain

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EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. -- For seven years, Kyle McMahon was plagued by tension headaches — daily.

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“It was a dull, constant, nagging headache,” said the East Grand Forks farmer. “Every day, I woke up with it.”

The headaches made it difficult for him to think clearly, he said.

“It’s hard to explain, but it blocked my mind; I couldn’t think, couldn’t keep a train of thought. I’d struggle with silly little things.”

He didn’t sleep well and his work and mood suffered.

“The littlest things would set me off,” he said. “I didn’t have the enthusiasm I used to have. Normally, I’m a pretty upbeat person.”

When the headache was especially bad, he’d take ibuprofen which worked about 20 percent of the time, he said.

McMahon, 29, is uncertain if the headaches were caused by his work as a farmer — he needs to continuously turn around while seated on the tractor — or by a car accident seven years ago, he said.

He suspects the accident — which left him with injuries including a “busted jaw” and missing teeth — was a major contributing factor, he said.

He consulted a physician, who was not helpful, he said. Chiropractic treatment was somewhat effective but the headaches continued.

“It was a very frustrating feeling. I didn’t know what was going on, and nothing would work.”

Dealing with chronic headaches was a daily struggle, he said. “I was starting to get depressed.”

Another option

His dentist, Dr. David Thorfinnson, who practices at East Grand Forks Dental Care, told McMahon about a treatment that might help.

The treatment program, called TruDenta, has been effective in patients who have recurring head, face, jaw and neck pain, Thorfinnson said.

“It’s another option for people who have been dealing with chronic pain, and what they’ve been doing doesn’t work,” he said.

Drug-free, needle-free and painless, the treatment is aimed at the underlying causes of chronic headaches: the pain and discomfort caused by improper muscle forces in the mouth, neck and head area, he said.

This pain could be the result of trauma, such as whiplash, or the accumulated effect of years of improper alignment of the jaw, he said. “It’s the result of different muscles working against each other.”    

After researching the TruDenta treatment for four years and talking with other dentists who are using it, Thorfinnson incorporated it into his practice and began seeing patients last fall.

Using this system, he evaluates a patient’s pain symptoms and disabilities in the teeth, muscles and joints that are likely caused by force imbalances, he said.

“We’re able to diagnose (the problem) precisely.”

His son Jeff, who completed specialized training to earn certification as a dentomandibular rehabilitation therapist, provides individualized therapies tailored to each patient’s condition.

Jeff uses specialized tools and techniques — such as ultrasound, microcurrent technology, cold-laser therapy and manual muscle massage — to reduce pain and inflammation and to promote healing of the muscles and nerves.

The treatment has been effective in all but one of about two dozen people he has treated using TruDenta, Thorfinnson said.

Treating source, not symptoms

“We’re not treating the symptoms, we’re treating the source of the pain,” Thorfinnson said. “We’re trying to get the muscles working normally again and re-establish proper function.”

The TruDenta treatment combines in-office therapies and at-home therapy, he said. “Forty percent of the treatment is home care.”

“The longer you’ve been dealing with it, the longer it takes to treat.”

The program, developed by a dentist and a physician who base their company in Florida, has a success rate of 92 to 93 percent, Thorfinnson said, meaning that patients experience more pain-free days or elimination of headaches.  

Except for the Twin Cities, he is the only dentist in Minnesota to offer the treatment, he said. Fargo is the only location in North Dakota where the program is available.

Many chronic headache and migraine sufferers have tried traditional treatments that don’t provide lasting relief because the treatments — such as medications — only temporarily mask symptoms, Thorfinnson said.

People can develop a tolerance for these drugs, he said. “Where maybe two (pills) used to work, now you need four. We try to get you off the drugs.”  

In worst-case scenarios, prescription pain-killers can be addictive, he said.  

Some people who live with constant headaches for years become resigned to the condition, Thorfinnson said.

“A lot of times, people with chronic headaches just give up. They think, ‘I guess this is how it’s going to be.’”

“When you live with pain every single day, that’s when the anxiety and depression comes in,” said Jeff Thorfinnson, who earned a degree in psychology. “When they come in, they’re down in the dumps.”  

He and his father can’t help but notice when some patients, who’ve had some treatments, appear to be more cheerful and talkative.

“It’s fun to see how their personality changes,” David Thorfinnson said.

Relief at last

After her first treatment about a month ago, Chris Langei of East Grand Forks said the headaches she suffered since a serious car accident last December have gone away.

“I had headaches almost daily since the accident.”  

Her vehicle was broadsided by another vehicle, going 40 miles per hour, and totaled her SUV, she said. The accident threw discs in her spine out of place and caused a major concussion.

She had extensive medical and chiropractic treatment but still had headaches, she said.

Thorfinnson, who is her dentist, suggested that her jaw might be misaligned.

“No one had ever addressed the jaw issue,” said Langei, 46, a personal trainer and fitness manager at Choice Health & Fitness in Grand Forks, N.D. “I assumed the headaches were due to the concussion.”     

She had never heard about the TruDenta treatment, she said, “and I’ve been in the fitness industry for 26 years.”

After her first treatment, the headaches went away, she said.

“I was very surprised and enlightened by what they did and how they did it. I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to let people know about this.’

“It’s a therapy that’s not to be overlooked.”

McMahon, who started receiving treatment last fall, had a similar experience.

He has been headache-free since completing the treatment program in April, he said. “I’d absolutely recommend it to anybody’s who’s had chronic or returning headaches.

“It’s such a simple, easy, painless process.”

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