TMJ |5 min read

TMJ & COVID: What’s The Connection?

A man with covid holding his head in pain

COVID-19 is a “gift” that keeps on giving.

Between the pandemic, the quarantines, and the looming recession, you’d think this disease has already done enough damage.

Alas, that’s not the case.

The disease keeps on rearing its ugly head, and this time around, it’s in the jaw area. An unpleasant development to be sure, but don’t start panicking just yet.

To understand what’s happening, let’s learn what TMJ is and see if that’s what you’re dealing with.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders

Did you know that headaches are often tooth-related?

That’s right.

And, more often than not, it’s TMJ.

Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD) are conditions that affect the jaw joints and the surrounding muscles and ligaments.

These disorders usually stem from trauma, improper bite alignment, sleep apnea, nasal obstruction, arthritis, and everyday wear and tear.

The most common TMJ symptoms include:

  • Severe headaches;
  • Jaw tenderness;
  • Facial pain;
  • Jaw locking or limited opening;
  • And intermittent ringing in the ears.

The exact cause behind most TMJ disorders can be tricky to determine.

Sometimes, it’s arthritis.

Sometimes genetics.

Oftentimes, it’s jaw injuries.

And, at times, it’s some combination of multiple factors.

The people who experience the above-mentioned symptoms also often clench or grind their teeth, which is a condition known as bruxism.

But is bruxism the same as TMJ?

Not quite, but let’s elaborate.

Bruxism & TMJ: What’s The Difference?

TMJ disorders are medical conditions that inflame the jaw joint, bringing with them headaches, jaw and facial pains during chewing and biting, dizziness, and many more problems.

Bruxism is the medical term for teeth grinding.

The most common reasons behind bruxism are stress, anxiety, sleep apnea, nasal obstructions/allergies, and the side effects of certain medications.

Symptoms of bruxism include:

  • Jaw, neck, and facial pains;
  • Headaches;
  • Jaw tenderness;
  • Intermittent ringing in the ears;
  • Worn-down tooth enamel;
  • Cracked and chipped teeth;
  • Sensitive teeth;
  • And more.

So, as you can see, there’s a substantial overlap between the symptoms of bruxism and TMJ disorders.

However, they’re not the same, and they don’t always go hand in hand.

Bruxism is, again, just the technical term for clenching and grinding your teeth.

And TMJ disorders are a collective term for discomfort in the face, jaw joint, and all the ligaments, muscles, and tendons that connect all of them together.

Of course, habitual teeth grinding will usually take a toll on your teeth, so much so that some develop an imbalanced jaw.

Likewise, the pain and discomfort that TMJ brings can cause you to grind your teeth more often to offset the pain, resulting in bruxism.

But where does COVID-19 come into the picture?

Let’s find that out.

Can COVID-19 Cause TMJ & Bruxism?

The short answer is yes – COVID-19 can cause TMJ and bruxism.

As much as we don’t like to be the bearers of bad news, there’s often a strong link between COVID-19 and TMJ disorders.

To no one’s surprise, the pandemic has elevated everyone’s stress and anxiety levels considerably.

And, with that, we’ve also seen a considerable increase in oral conditions like:

  • Cavities;
  • Tooth fractures;
  • Jaw pain;
  • And teeth grinding.

According to this Journal of Clinical Medicine study…Click to learn more in a new window…, TMJ disorders and bruxism can be possible outbreak factors in patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.

The study further suggests that a significant increase in facial pain – including jaw pain – has been linked to jaw clenching and teeth grinding.

And, according to a survey conducted in February 2022 by the ADA Health Policy Institute…Click to learn more in a new window…, nearly 60% of the 1,386 surveyed dentists reported an increase in observed stress-related conditions, including bruxism.

More stressed out than ever, pandemic-affected people clench their jaws and grind their teeth during the day and while they sleep, usually without knowing it.

The increased use and longer wear time of masks can also cause a significant strain on the head, neck, and TMJ joint.

The constant strain on these muscles causes joint inflammation, muscle inflammation, and nerve pain, eventually misaligning the jaw and, in doing so, enabling TMJ disorders.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is there’s plenty we can do to help!

What To Do About TMJ?

Once we are able to reach a diagnosis, a treatment option can be recommended by Dr. Giesy.

Sometimes, you’ll be able to get away with anti-inflammatory pain relievers, hot and cold packs, and a soft food diet.

That being said, more involved treatments like jaw orthotics or an oral appliance worn at night may be necessary too.

And if your TMJ is caused by missing teeth, then implants, crowns, or bridges can be used to re-establish your lost bite, reducing pressure on the jaw joint.

A woman smiling after her headache goes away

Why Contact Dr. Giesy and His Team at Giesy Family & Implant Dentistry?

Dr. Michael Giesy is board-certified in craniofacial pain (TMJ) and owns the adjoining TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Washington, which was selected to join the International Branch of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre.

He has extensive experience caring for patients with TMJ disorders and offers a personalized approach since there is no one-size-fits-all solution for TMD.

Dr. Giesy will help you diagnose the cause of your TMJ pain and provide treatment to help you live a better, longer life.

Giesy Family & Implant Dentistry is located in Tacoma, WA…Click to open a new window to Google Maps…. We serve families from all over the Pacific Northwest, including Ruston, Spanaway, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, University Place, Fircrest, Olympia, Puyallup, Federal Way, Fife, and Port Orchard.