The Dramatic Increase in Bruxism and TMJ/TMD During the Pandemic

Floss, and other dentists around the country, have seen a dramatic increase in patients with TMJ/TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) as a result of bruxism, or teeth grinding throughout the pandemic. According to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology in Poland and Israel, the emotional aggravation caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in intense bruxism and TMD symptoms, and increased pain in the jaw and mouth.

Stress and anxiety are some of the major triggers of teeth grinding and jaw clenching. With the pandemic, most people are experiencing levels of fear, uncertainty and stress like never before and the body is keeping the score.

“It has gotten increasingly worse over the last five months,” says Dr. Holloway. “During our March Botox special, we had so many existing patients, who have never had grinding issues in the past, come in for Botox for their jaw to relieve TMD pain.”

Most teeth grinding (formally known as bruxism) happens at night, so the patient is not even aware they are doing it. People who grind their teeth at night will often have a sore or tight jaw in the morning or issues opening their jaw fully without pain. Over time, this will develop into TMD, which causes severe pain in the jaw when opening or biting down. It can also cause cracks in the teeth and/or attrition, where the grinding actually reduces the length of your teeth, like filing a nail.

Teeth grinding can be alleviated by using a night guard, like the custom night guards we fit patients for at Floss.

In addition to grinding at night, Dr. Holloway is seeing more patients with jaw clenching issues. This generally happens during waking hours and is in response to stress, anxiety or anger.

“There is so much stress for patients right now, and people who have never had issues with their jaws are experiencing pain from constant clenching,” Dr. Holloway says.

For these patients she recommends jaw stretching several times a day to bring the focus back to the unconscious clenching and give your jaw a break. You do this by opening up your mouth wide like you are going to yawn and holding it for a few seconds, closing and then repeat a few more times.

The more long-term effects of clenching and grinding are TMJ/TMD. TMD causes mild to severe pain in and around the jaw joint, jaw muscles as well as facial muscles which can lead to limited mouth opening, pain upon opening or biting and chronic headaches. If patients experience TMD, Botox is an excellent solution to get those overworked muscles to relax. The active ingredients in Botox effectively “freezes” the muscles so that they can no longer seize up and cause discomfort.

We can all agree that we are so over this pandemic and the short- and long-term effects it is having on our health and our world. But until we come out on the other side, watch yourself for physical manifestations of stress. If you are grinding or clenching your teeth, make an appointment and we will get you the relief you need.

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