Jaw Pain and Muscle Aches from COVID-related Stress

Jaw Pain and Muscle Aches from COVID-related stress

 Dr. Chris Tavakoli, DDS

As the COVID pandemic continues to affect our world population with no definitive end in sight, there has been a noticeable increase in an often-overlooked part of our physical health…TMJ disorder. Ever since the reopening of our office, there have been many patients reporting spontaneous headaches, broken teeth, tight jaw muscles, and sore teeth upon waking up in the mornings. These are all tell-tale signs of bruxism (formal term for excessive teeth grinding or jaw clenching).

The constant stress of being trapped inside our homes under lockdown and the ominous headlines on national news broadcasts about the COVID pandemic have put a lot of patients under extra physical and mental stress. As a result, we are noticing more of our patients clenching their teeth as an anxious habit during the day or showing signs of teeth grinding in their sleep. The heavy forces on the teeth put significant strain and tension on our TMJ (jaw joint) which overworks the nerves supplying our jaw muscles and teeth and thus explains the aches and pains.

While there is no magic bullet solution to avoid grinding our teeth, there certainly are ways to treat the symptoms with safe and simple home remedies.

1)     If symptomatic, start a softer food diet to put less strain on the jaw joint (TMJ)

2)     Avoid chewing gum

3)     Self-jaw muscle massage

4)     Apply heating pad to sore areas of the jaw for 20 minutes (increases blood flow, relaxes the muscle). Repeat up to 3 times a day

5)     Avoid caffeine in the evening hours (can cause hyperactivity of jaw muscles during sleep)

6)     Take OTC anti-inflammatory medication (i.e. Advil or Aleve)

7)     Relaxation techniques (non-caffeinated Chamomile tea before bed, yoga, meditation, acupuncture)

Signs that you may have been clenching and grinding your teeth:

1)     Chipped teeth or flattened edges

2)     Sore jaw muscles and/or teeth when waking up

3)     Unexplained headaches throughout the day

4)     Generalized tooth sensitivity (heavy grinding of teeth can over-activate the nerves of teeth resulting in cold sensitivity)

5)     Difficulty chewing food

If you start to notice any of the above symptoms, do not hesitate to schedule a visit with us and we will do a thorough evaluation of your TMJ and all the supporting muscles. Upon examination, we will recommend the appropriate mouthguard appliance to minimize the heavy forces on your teeth and jaw during nighttime clenching. The mouthguard will be custom made just for you and will serve as a protective cushion for your teeth and help preserve them for many years to come!

Why Choose a Pediatric Dentist?

When it’s time to take a child for their first visit to the dentist, choosing the right dental office can be tricky. Most parents have a trusted family dentist and he or she is the first option that pops into mind. However, choosing a family dentist may not be the best option for a child. Instead, it may be best to find a qualified pediatric dentist.

Pediatric Dentists are specialists in Pediatric Dentistry just like Pediatricians are the experts for children in medicine. Simply put- they are the experts of kid dentistry!!

After graduation from Dental School, Pediatric Dentists complete another two to three years of additional intensive pediatric dental training specifically focused on treating the unique dental issues of children and teens, including those who are disabled or have special needs.

One of the biggest reasons to choose a pediatric dentist over a family dentist is their extensive knowledge and understanding of the oral health and growth of children’s teeth. Parents choosing pediatric dentists will have the added benefit of knowing their child is in the hands of someone with a high level of specialized training and commitment. In addition, pediatric dentists are educators. Prevention and treatment are the primary focus areas of pediatric dentists, along with educating parents and other dental professionals on how best to treat their children. They provide parents with the necessary information to properly care for their child’s ongoing oral health and well-being by discussing nutrition, oral growth and development and any pacifier or digit/ thumb sucking habits that a child might have in addition to providing preventative tips and treatments like sealants. 

Pediatric dentists keep your child’s comfort in mind with a fun and relaxing atmosphere. Specialized pediatric dental instruments are used to provide optimal care for developing teeth. Staff members are experienced in working with children and know how to make kids feel comfortable and safe by using age-appropriate words.

Most parents will rave about their pediatric dentist ability to be patient and have a calming mannerism. Just when little ones may not have self-control, pediatric dentists make up for that because of their ability to relate to your child and help children with comfort, patience and understanding.

From first tooth to adolescence, a pediatric dentist helps your child develop a healthy smile until they’re ready to move on to a general dentist. They work with parents to teach their children healthy brushing habits, inform them about the importance of flossing, and give them dietary tips that will keep their mouth clean for years to come.

Your Baby’s Teeth

Babies are born without teeth.  Baby teeth, also called as primary teeth usually start to appear when your child is 6 months old. By the time a child is 3 years old, most children will have a full set of 20 baby teeth in their mouth.  However, this varies as each child is unique. Your child’s teeth may come in earlier or later.

Baby teeth can start to decay as soon as they come in as the enamel in baby teeth is thinner than in adult teeth.  Sugar is present in almost everything a baby drinks like in breast milk, formula and 100% juices.   Only water is sugar free.  Acid from sugary drinks can stay on the teeth and can attack the teeth if it is on for 20 minutes or longer.  When teeth are in contact with liquids that contain sugar then decay can start.


How to Take Care of your Baby’s Teeth

Breastfeeding:  Wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, moist gauze or washcloth after you breastfeed. Once your child’s first tooth comes in make sure to brush their teeth after each feeding.

Bottles, sipping and snacking:  Do not put your child to bed with a bottle or training cup- if you absolutely must then best to only have water in them. Avoid giving your baby fruit juice until they are one year old. Limit sugary drinks and sweets to mealtime. Sipping sugary liquids all day will expose your baby’s teeth to acids that can break down enamel and cause decay.  Should your child want to snack- healthy snacks are the best! Don’t give your child chewy, sticky foods like candy, cookies, chips and crackers.

Pacifiers:  It is best to avoid using a pacifier, if a baby does not want to take one. However, in case you notice that your baby is resorting to thumb or finger sucking, it is better to give a pacifier. A Pacifier habit is easier to break in the long run versus a thumb or finger sucking habit. Should your baby take a pacifier, do not dip the pacifier or nipple of a bottle into anything sweet. Also, do not put a pacifier or a spoon in your mouth before giving it to your child. Decay causing bacteria that is in your mouth can be passed to them.

Brushing:  We recommend that parents wipe your baby’s gums after each feeding and once the first tooth comes in to brush after every feeding.

Establish a Dental Home: The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as well as the American Dental Association recommend that your baby’s first dental visit be when the first tooth comes in or by the first birthday.

Your Child’s First Dental Visit

When should I take my child for the First Dental Visit?

One of the most important things you can do for your child is to set them up for a lifetime of healthy smiles by starting dental visits early. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as well as the American Dental Association recommend that your child’s first dental visit to the dentist happen when their first tooth appears but no later than their first birthday.  FIRST VISIT BY FIRST BIRTHDAY.

We call this first visit, a “Well-baby Check or a Happy visit” for your child.  It is best for a child to have a pleasant first meeting with the dentist and the team. This first visit helps your child to have a Dental Home. Don’t wait until an emergency arises to introduce your child to the dentist.

Why should I start dental visits early for my child?

Prevention is the key to a healthy smile! At your baby/child’s first visit, we provide nutritional and diet counselling, discuss feeding, oral habits like pacifier or thumb sucking, show you how to clean your child’s teeth, do a quick gentle examination and recommend dental care products. We also make sure that your child is getting the right amount of fluoride, which is a natural mineral that protects your child’s teeth.

This “Well-baby or Happy Visit” also helps you to set up a Dental Home for your child, where you can bring your child every six months. This helps your child get familiar to the dental setting and also helps us to get to know your child and your family’s dental needs so that your child will have the best care.

Tips for your baby/child’s first visit

If possible, schedule a morning appointment when children tend to be rested and cooperative. Don’t schedule during naptime. In the many years of seeing babies and children we have found that children younger than age 8 and specially babies and toddlers do best during the mid-morning hours like between 10AM – 1PM.

Stay positive! Children and even little babies can pick up on any anxiety that their parents may show.



Does My Child Need Dental X-Rays?

Does my child need X-rays

Every child is unique and the need for dental x-rays varies from child to child. Dental X-rays play an important role in diagnosis and treatment planning of your child’s dental care needs. They show us know when something’s wrong and assist us in checking the development of your child as they grow. Not every child needs an X-ray at every check-up.  Films are taken only after reviewing your child’s medical, dental histories, performing a clinical examination and when they are most likely to yield information when a clinical exam cannot.

Since X-rays use low levels of radiation, we’re conservative about when and why we use them for your child. In general, children’s mouths grow and change rapidly. Children are also more susceptible than adults to tooth decay. For children with high risk of tooth decay, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends X-ray examinations every six months to detect cavities developing between the teeth. Children with a low risk of tooth decay require x-ray exams less frequently.

My child has never had a cavity, should he/she get x-rays? 

X-rays detect more than cavities- they may be needed to check erupting teeth, evaluate for any missing or extra teeth, diagnose any bone disease, evaluate an injury or to plan for any orthodontic treatment.  X-rays allow dentists to diagnose and treat conditions that may not be visible on a clinical exam. When dental problems are found and treated early, care is more comfortable and affordable.

Are dental x-rays safe?

We take the utmost care to minimize the exposure of our child patients. With contemporary safeguards like lead body protection shields/aprons, high-speed films and digital x-rays, the amount of x-ray radiation received in a dental x-ray examination is extremely small thus assuring that your child receives minimal radiation. As a matter of fact, dental x-rays pose a far smaller risk than any undetected dental problems that can lead to pain and extensive, expensive problems.

Will my child get x-rays routinely?

We recommend x-rays films only when necessary to evaluate and monitor your child’s oral health. We determine the frequency of the x-rays films based on your child’s dental needs.  If your child had dental x-rays taken at a previous dentist, please have them send copies to our office to minimize radiation exposure.





Teeth Whitening Done Safely

Summer is a fun and busy time of year with attending graduations, weddings, and family vacations. We all want to look our best, and having a brighter smile can help with that. The best natural ways to keep your teeth white are everyday healthy habits, including:

-Brush twice daily for two minutes

-Floss once daily

-Use a whitening toothpaste with the ADA Seal of Acceptance

-Don’t smoke or use tobacco

In recent years, there has been a push for more natural, home remedies to whiten teeth, but there is no evidence that shows using (products with) charcoal, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, or lemons are safe or effective for your teeth, according to the September 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

In fact, using materials that are too abrasive on your teeth can actually make them look more yellow. Whitening products affect enamel, but if you’re using a rough or acidic scrub, it can wear down the enamel to the softer, yellower layer called dentin. Your best and safest bet to whiten your teeth is to ask your dentist what’s right for you. S/he may recommend chairside whitening or trays for use at home. As always, don’t forget to schedule your regular checkups and cleanings to keep your smile healthy.




When Should my Child See the Orthodontist?

The American Association of Orthodontists and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that all children have an initial orthodontic evaluation (not necessarily treatment) by an orthodontic specialist by the age of seven. Although some children may need early intervention, most children are placed on a recall system, meaning that we will keep track of your child for re-evaluation. This enables the orthodontist to select the optimal window of opportunity to help a growing and changing child. 

Contrary to 20-30 years ago when children saw an orthodontist for the first time after all their baby teeth had fallen out at about age 12, today’s standard of care can involve two phases of treatment. This two phase treatment plan does not double the treatment, but rather divides it. 

Phase I Treatment: usually done when a child still has many baby teeth, typically 8-10 years of age, and usually lasts about one year. There are corrections that are easily achieved and possible at this early age, but may be difficult or impossible later on. For instance, an expansion of the palate to alleviate crowding and/or bite irregularities can be done easily at an early age, often very simply with just an expander, whereas an older child may require surgery to attain the same result. At the end of active Phase I Treatment, retainers are usually implemented to maintain the achieved results.

Phase II Treatment: usually occurs when a child has lost all of their baby teeth. At this time more adult teeth have erupted and braces are needed to work on all of the teeth and to complete treatment. This involves full braces on both the top and bottom teeth.  Wisdom teeth are also assessed at this time.

Also contrary to 20-30 years ago when extractions of four permanent teeth were almost the norm with braces, two phase treatment has made it possible to avoid extractions in most cases. With two phase treatment, the percentage of patients needing extractions has drastically decreased with patients achieving better overall results.

At Fusion Dental, we offer complimentary orthodontic consultations. During this visit, you can expect a thorough examination of your child, an assessment of whether treatment is necessary, and when the best time would be to start. This is a free information session for you. Furthermore, we will discuss different treatment options that may be available, and you will have the opportunity to ask the orthodontist any questions. You will also meet with the financial/insurance coordinator to discuss financing, and we will work with you to accommodate your particular situation and needs. 

At Fusion Dental, we don’t want anything to stand in the way of your child’s beautiful and healthy smile!

When Restoring Your Smile Means a Dental Implant

If you’ve been told that what’s standing between you and a great smile is a dental implant, don’t despair. These days, restoring your smile is a lot easier, quicker and less traumatic than it once was, thanks to state-of-the art technology.

A dental implant is an artificial tooth root that your dentist can place into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth, bridge or denture. You are a candidate for implant restoration if you are in good general and oral health but may have lost a tooth or teeth due to periodontal disease, an injury, or some other reason. Dental implants and their restorations look and feel very natural, and they are more “tooth-friendly” than traditional bridgework, since they don’t rely on your neighboring teeth for support.

What will happen during the process? It’s a surgical procedure where the dental implants will be placed into areas of the jaw bone where teeth are already missing, or sometimes they can be placed into the socket of a tooth immediately after it is removed. The implant is made of titanium, a biologically acceptable material that allows bone attachment to anchor it securely to the jaw. In select circumstances, the implants can be used to support temporary crowns or dentures immediately after surgery.  More often, after three or four months of healing, we will make impression molds to record the position of the implants and teeth and then our laboratory will fabricate the restoration. We will often attach a small connector post, called an abutment, to the implant. The new replacement tooth or teeth will be secured to the abutment with cement or screws.  Care is taken to match the color of your restoration to your natural teeth.

We’ve heard from many of our patients that there is very little discomfort involved during and after the procedure. Sedation is used, when needed, along with local anesthesia to ensure the process is as pain and anxiety free as possible. Under proper conditions, including diligent cleaning and maintenance, implants can last a lifetime.

If you wear dentures, you have a range of options. Your implants can allow for the dentures to be removable or not depending upon your individual situation and needs. 

So if you have been hiding your smile because of missing teeth, you have difficulty chewing, or your dentures don’t feel secure – dental implants may be for you. Dental implants can help improve your quality of life and boost your confidence. Call us today for an appointment to restore your smile! 

Could Your Jaw Pain Be Caused By TMJ Disorder?

Living in the nation’s capital, we are quite used to facing all types of stress, such as commuting to work! And many of us may unconsciously try to relieve stress by clenching or grinding our teeth. Small unevenness in our bite may also promote clenching and grinding. In some families, it is just heredity that makes us more susceptible to grinding our teeth. 

Clenching or grinding can cause TMJ disorder.  The term “TMJ” is often used to refer to facial muscle, jaw joint, or tooth pain as a result of misalignment of the bite, grinding or clenching habits, or from damage in the jaw joint itself. In fact, “TMJ” is an abbreviation for Temporomandibular Joint, the joint that allows our lower jaws to open and move.

TMJ disorder can be a problem that starts in childhood, but can extend into adulthood and can show itself in a variety of ways. If there are bite discrepancies, or unevenness, patients will unconsciously tend to avoid the spots where teeth do not fit together by re-positioning the jaw.  This action strains the muscles, resulting in fatigue and soreness.  In an attempt to eliminate the bite unevenness, some people also rub the teeth together to wear down the uneven spots.  This can result in teeth that wear out prematurely and have a flattened appearance and broken enamel. It can also cause sore muscles. 

Clenching and grinding may occur during the day or night, or both.  At night, some people clench their teeth hard for up to 60-90 seconds repeatedly during sleep without even knowing. During waking hours, others may clench their jaws in quick bursts throughout the day. This can lead to the classic “stress headache” in the temples, usually in the afternoon.

Symptoms of TMJ disorder can include headaches, tiredness in the muscles below the cheekbones, and even sensitivity in the scalp when brushing hair.  Teeth may appear worn down, cracked or loose.  To get a better idea of the impact of TMJ disorder, you can take a look at the pressure on our teeth: when chewing food, people apply approximately 60 pounds per square inch of pressure.  When a person clenches their jaw, the back teeth can produce pressure of approximately 500 hundred pounds per square inch – which can be very destructive over the years!   

What are some signs of TMJ disorder to look for?  In addition to the classic warning signs of clenching or grinding, your spouse might report hearing you grinding your teeth at night, or you might be waking up with your teeth clenched together or with facial muscle pain. Excessive muscle pressure can damage not only the teeth but also the jaw joints.  A “pop’ or “click” when opening your jaw can progress to pain, dislocation, getting the jaw locked in an open or closed position, and even destruction of the joint itself.

There are solutions to TMJ disorder, and the best approach is to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Frequently your dentist will provide you with a “U” shaped, hard plastic guard to wear on the teeth, usually at night. This protects the teeth from wearing each other down, and helps to break the cycle of grinding by providing a perfect bite with no unevenness.  As grinding or clenching continues while wearing the guard, it’s the guard that gets worn down and cracked, not the teeth. Occasionally, special splints, and even joint surgery, may be required.

Fusion Dental doctors are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of TMJ problems. If you or somebody in your family is suffering from any of these symptoms, please contact us today for help.