A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic my 8 year-old son asked “Dad, what was quarantine like when you were a kid?” He had assumed this was not an unprecedented event in my lifetime, he didn’t understand that this pandemic and quarantine is new for all of us. I can’t be alone in feeling that the world has been a little upside down in 2020. It seems like the only thing that is constant this year is stress.

How we manage that stress is the question. If you are like me, you might have trouble falling asleep – or maybe you head to the freezer for some ice cream. We all carry our stress differently and turn to various coping mechanisms. 

As it turns out, lots of people carry this stress in their jaw. Stress can cause us to clench or bite down on our teeth, engaging powerful chewing muscles significantly more than nature intended. What makes this even worse is that we may not even be aware we are doing it. 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, dentists all over the country are seeing indications that more and more people are grinding and clenching their teeth. You might notice some of these symptoms in yourself! Some common indications:

  • pain in your jaw or teeth 
  • pain while chewing 
  • a cracked tooth
  • constant dull ache
  • spontaneous tooth pain 
  • pain when drinking cold or hot beverages
  • ear pain not related to an ear infection 
  • more headaches – especially those in the temples 

All over the country, dental professionals are noticing more people coming in with broken teeth or reports of jaw pain. At The Center for Sleep Apnea and TMJ here in Utah, I have noticed a significant increase of people experiencing pain from clenching. Many have never had a jaw problem before the pandemic, but are finding the pain unbearable now. We are also seeing a number of flare-ups in those who had previously been considered “stable,” i.e., managing symptoms and pain – who are also now dealing with major pain.   

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please take the time to check in with your dental professional. 

There are a few signs that you need to book an urgent appointment: 

  • If you are experiencing jaw pain and dysfunction that you never have before
  • If you have a flare-up of jaw pain and dysfunction that has previously been well managed
  • If you are experiencing pain in a tooth or multiple teeth and it isn’t improving

These symptoms are best treated early with conservative care. Unfortunately, if left without treatment, these problems can increase and become chronic in nature. Some good news – it’s possible to alleviate some pain while you wait to get in for your appointment. For both a possible cracked tooth and TMJ pain, try to avoid hard or chewy foods. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories can be helpful, but be careful of stomach upset. In some cases, massage and alternating ice packs and moist heat may provide some relief. 

A word of warning here – your dentist may recommend a splint to support the jaw. Please be sure to get fitted through the dental office – do not buy a splint at the store! One that is not fitted for you specifically can exacerbate your issues.

This pandemic is uncharted territory for all of us. We are all learning to navigate this temporary set back to our normal way of life. While we don’t know when this pandemic will end, managing our coronavirus-related stress is critical for our overall health. 

Let your dental professional or us at The Center for Sleep Apnea and TMJ play an active role in managing any new or longstanding jaw pain! To be sure you have a safe way to get help, we have opened up our availability to offer a free telemedicine visit. 

Call our office at 801.261.9155, and we will get you set up with that complimentary consultation. 

And of course, if you have any questions, you can always contact our office, either here on the website or through that phone number listed above. 

-Dr. Kevin Mangelson, D.M.D.