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Stress-Related Facial and Jaw Pain During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on people’s lives all over the world. Schools and businesses have closed, leaving young families cooped up at home where they’re inundated with a steady stream of apocalyptic news. Many workers have lost their jobs or been asked to work from home under trying conditions. Grocery store shelves have run bare, making it difficult to find essentials. Healthcare professionals have become the frontline workers in this fight against a new, unfamiliar virus. And just about everyone has worried about what would happen if their friends and family became ill with the disease.

No matter how you have been personally affected during the pandemic, you are likely facing increased stress and anxiety. Stress can affect your health in many ways, including increasing the amount you clench your jaw during the day and grind your teeth at night.

Jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding, also known as bruxism, are both categorized as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). These unconscious behaviors can lead to numerous problems, all of which have occurred in increased numbers among dental patients since the start of the pandemic.

Tel Aviv University Study

A formal study from Tel Aviv University found a 15 to 34 percent increase in TMD symptoms among Israel and Poland residents during the initial COVID-19 lockdown last spring. People who already struggled with TMD before the pandemic saw a rise in symptoms once the lockdown began. Researchers confirmed the link between people reporting greater levels of stress and experiencing higher rates of jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding, and facial pain.

The study found that the people most likely to experience TMD symptoms from increased stress were those in the “middle generation” with young children at home and elderly parents to worry about. Pandemic stress also seemed to more significantly affect women, who exhibited worse TMD symptoms than their male counterparts. In all, the most profoundly affected group was women aged 35 to 55.

The study leaves little doubt—stress and anxiety brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have increased the prevalence of TMD symptoms. These results aren’t surprising, considering that the uncertainty and worries of living through a pandemic are sure to increase stress and anxiety, and jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding are well-known manifestations of emotional duress.

TMD symptoms aren’t just increasing in Israel and Poland. Dentists across the United States say they have noticed a surge in bruxism cases among their patients since the pandemic began. Of course, it didn’t help that dentist offices around the country were required to close for an extended time in the spring, forcing all but emergency patients to wait weeks for dental care. Fortunately, the period of mandatory closures is over, and patients can now visit the dentist with confidence.

Symptoms of Jaw-Clenching and Teeth-Grinding

The most common problems that people with TMD and bruxism complain about include:

  • Worn enamel: The outermost layer of the tooth, known as enamel, serves to protect the underlying tooth structure beneath it. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body, but months of grinding your teeth for hours every night can wear enamel down.
  • Tooth fractures or tooth loss: Worn enamel can damage teeth, changing their shape, affecting your bite, and even causing teeth to break. In serious cases, tooth loss can also occur.
  • Facial pain and temporal headaches: Excessively exercised jaw muscles may cause facial pain or temporal headaches, which are felt as pain in the temples on the sides of the head.
  • Jaw pain: Jaw muscles overworked from clenching may hurt while talking, chewing, or yawning. It’s also common to wake up with jaw pain after a night of grinding your teeth.
  • Jaw joint issues: In addition to causing pain, clenching and grinding may restrict the jaw joint’s range of motion, limiting the ability to fully open and close your mouth.

If you are experiencing facial pain, jaw pain, or other stress-related problems during this pandemic, please contact West County Dental for help. Our St. Louis dentist takes the necessary precautions to keep our team and patients safe while reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Let us address your dental concerns today—call (314) 488-2921 or contact us online to schedule your next visit.