The Cost of Headaches

By Dr. Paul Mitsch DMD, Dr. Daniel Y. Suh DMD

Headaches are costing us too much! Headache or pain from the shoulders up is no joke in our community or society. It is estimated that loss to business may cost as much as $19 billion per year in lost production! This does not include lost wages, medicines used and doctors visits. This also does not include the cost of broken relationships and the cost of recovery, if one is fortunate! The real cost per year, to the US alone, could repay our national debt or fund medical insurance or a large portion of these costs.

So how do we define headache? Is a headache only “migraine pain” that debilitates us or is a headache any pain that we experience from our shoulders up that is uncomfortable? It is suggested in the International Coding of Diagnosis (ICD) that there are four categories of headache; migraine headaches, cluster headaches, muscle tension headaches and organic headaches. The diagnosis of each type of headache leads to a code in a publication called Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) that leads to treatment which is usually paid for by a medical carrier (the proper ICD code matches the proper CPT code). The migraine headache has a number of symptoms which lead to a proper diagnosis. Some of these symptoms include nausea, sensitivity to light or sounds, dizziness, ringing of the ears, pain in the frontal head and in the neck and inability to understand speech or inability to speak. The cluster headache mimics the migraine except has been found to be associated with other systems in the body, like hormones. The organic headache is associated with another illness and is the one headache that gets worse and needs medical attention. The organic headache may be associated with tumors or other serious illness. The muscle tension headache may mimic all of the other headaches and is one of the simplest to treat; most of the time without medicines!

The important feature of muscle tension headaches and dental care is that dentists that have an interest in areas like Temporal Mandibular dysfunction are trained to make this diagnosis and treatment. However, the patient who is treated for these disorders or conditions must always remember that we are evaluating and treating conditions that may have one of the other origins (organic, migraine or cluster). If the dentist is not familiar in these diagnoses he or she should be able to refer the patient to a local dentist that is trained and able to help understand the possibility of muscle tension headache. Any person wanting more information on headaches and dentistry may want to go to the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain ( and check out dentists that are trained and study the information about headaches.

There is no reason we should accept the headache as a natural sequence to our daily life when there could be simple ways to eliminate them or there may be illness associated to them. It is important that one contact their physician and discuss headaches with them and demand a proper diagnosis that explains the symptoms to their satisfaction so they can live their life with as little pain as possible.