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!