For people seeking relief from chronic headache pain, a trip to the dentist might not occur to them.
But Dr. Erika Zarate, celebrating the one-year anniversary of her Advanced Dentistry and Headache Center, says that those headaches just might be caused by temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome.
The TMJ connects the lower jaw to the skull in front of the ear. Certain facial muscles that control chewing are also attached to the lower jaw. If these muscles become overworked or the jaw is not properly aligned, the result can be grinding of teeth while sleeping and chronic headaches.
“I have had training in neuromuscular dentistry where I learned how the muscles of the face and neck relate to the use of teeth,” Zarate said.
“A lot of these headaches become so hard for people to deal with they start reaching out to neurologists,” she added. “This can be treated through neuromuscular dentistry. We can make sure that your bite is stable and in the proper position. We sometimes need to balance it out through restorative dentistry, rebuilding your teeth.”
Zarate earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2002 from the University of Texas San Antonio and graduated from the University of Texas Health & Science Center Dental School in 2006. She returned to her hometown of Laredo to begin her career, moved to McAllen in 2009 and opened Advanced Dentistry and Headache Center in the summer of 2016.
The year-old practice offers a wide range of services, including cosmetic, restorative, and prosthetic dentistry, as well as general preventive family dentistry.
“We do pediatric dentistry through adults, including geriatric dentistry as well,” she said. “And I do have a lot of focus on the TMJ joints.”
Treating TMJ syndrome can involve more than neuromuscular dentistry and Advanced Dentistry and Headache Center works to provide a range of related services, including a staff massage therapist.
“We provide a massage therapist on site for patients who suffer severe TMJ problems,” she said. “We involve the massage therapist and referrals to ear, nose and throat specialists and physical therapists as well.”
Cosmetic dentistry is another area of concentration for Zarate, offering patients a variety of options to improve their smile and the look of their teeth.
“We can do a complete makeover where the patient can end up with what we call a Hollywood smile,” she said.
A cosmetic dental makeover is a process that can take about a month and involve cosmetic veneers or possibly dentures.
“But most of the times when you don’t like the shape of your teeth or the color, we can straighten the teeth with veneers and we can whiten them,” Zarate said.
Zarate incorporated the latest technology into her practice, turning to David Armstrong for help. Armstrong is the owner of Core Business Solutions and part owner of Hewitt Dental Supply, businesses that can supply everything from office equipment like copiers and computers to IT services and furniture, as well as some of the latest in dental technology.
“Dr. Zarate had a specific vision of what she wanted and we helped her implement that,” Armstrong said.
After a series of meetings, Armstrong and his crew were able to develop specific recommendations to match what Zarate wanted to accomplish as she prepared to open Advanced Dentistry and Headache Center.
“She told us what she wanted and we made recommendations. Once that was complete we handled everything from the build-out to the equipment and handed her the keys,” said Armstrong, who also has a construction company.
“I wanted to open my practice with the best technology possible.” Zarate said. “We got a lot of our equipment through Hewitt Dental Supply because we wanted the best. We were able to get top-of-the-line X-ray machines with a minimum dose of radiation.”
Zarate also uses an intraoral camera as part of the diagnostic process. The specialized camera uses a fluorescence technology to illuminate dental tissue and can detect tooth decay, periodontal problems and even potentially cancerous tissue.
“The intraoral cameras help us diagnose oral cancer, which is a big concern,” she said. “It allows us to take pictures in the mouth so we can see what’s going on.”
In addition to offering a broad range of services using the latest technology, at the heart of Zarate’s practice is a philosophy toward customer service that focuses on building patient relationships.
Early in her career, Zarate worked in practices where there was what she described as a “drill and fill, patient in, patient out” approach that she believes lacked proper regard for the human concerns of patients, which often involve a fear of dentistry.
“We want to make sure when the patient gets here, first of all, they feel relaxed,” she said. A lot of thought was given to the design and color scheme of the office to create a calming, receptive atmosphere.
“It feels like you are walking into a spa,” she said.
Patients receive very personalized attention beginning with the first visit.
“I spend about an hour with new patients,” Zarate said. “I want them to feel comfortable and open to talking to me about their concerns. We know every patient by name. They know us by first names. We want to make sure these patients feel at home. We want to make sure we build a good relationship.”
Zarate said she felt right at home right as soon as she moved to McAllen and is optimistic about the future.
“When I came to McAllen I fell in love with the community,” she said. “The people here were very welcoming. The dental community accepted me very quickly and my patients are very warming.”
For more information on the Advanced Dentistry and Headache Center, call (956) 627-5047 or visit www.ddsheadachecenter.com.