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COVID-19 and its relation to teeth clenching and TMJ pain

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This pandemic isn’t just a pain the ***, it’s also a pain in the teeth and jaw for many individuals. With our lives upended in many ways this year due to COVID-19, it has been well-documented that people are suffering from heightened anxiety and depression. While it is difficult to know the direct relationship between stress and orofacial pain, dentists are reporting an increase in patients complaining of pain due to clenching or grinding the teeth and TMJ discomfort.

What is bruxism?

Bruxism is teeth grinding or clenching, mostly occurring during sleep. Mild bruxism may not require treatment. However, in some people, bruxism can be frequent and severe enough to lead to jaw disorders, headaches, damaged teeth and other problems. People with poorer sleep quality, often due to stress or depression, have more intense teeth grinding and jaw clenching.

Many people with milder bruxism may not be aware of the habit since it occurs during sleep. For some, the teeth grinding may be so loud that it wakes their sleep partner. Over time, teeth grinding can cause more than dental problems, like worn, sensitive and loose teeth. Bruxism can lead to sore muscles in the neck, face and head, which can cause TMJ pain.

What is TMJ pain?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is an area near the ear with muscles and ligaments connecting the jaw bone to the skull. TMJ disorder can cause pain around the joint and may refer to the head and neck. Often, there is clicking, limited opening and even locking of the jaw joints. The exact cause of a person’s TMJ disorder is often difficult to determine, and may be due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, muscle spasm, arthritis or jaw injury. In addition, some people who have jaw pain also tend to clench or grind their teeth.

How is it treated?

While it may be tempting to put off dental care during this pandemic, it is not advisable if you are experiencing some of these issues. Your dentist should be consulted, and many offer virtual consultations, to determine if treatment is needed. One common treatment approach is a mouth guard worn at night, called a night guard. This can be an effective treatment for both bruxism and TMJ pain caused by muscle spasm. The night guard can also help with TMJ pain by causing the muscles to relax.

The night guard is usually made to cover the upper teeth, and it is important that is made correctly and covers all your teeth to prevent a change in the bite. Ill-fitting night guards can cause teeth to shift and not be in contact, known as an open bite, and may require orthodontic treatment to correct. We are here for you; we serve all of Orange County and beyond. We offer virtual and in-office consultations for your convenience.

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