Recently, New York cosmetic dentist Jason Kasarsky, DDS has had a lot of patients telling him that their facial muscles and joints are hurting. So much so that he says it, surprisingly, “tops the list” of dental-related complaints of late.
“Putting all of the recent factors into play, it is clear that COVID-related issues have created anxiety, depression and uncertainty. On the surface, most folks feel as if they are handling employment, family, social and political issues reasonably well, but my colleagues and I have noticed fractured tooth syndrome and TMJ issues on the rise.”
Dr. Kasarsky believes for some patients—and the population in general—emotionally debilitating issues, evidently, evolve into oral issues. “Ignoring muscle and TMJ pain can lead to serious matters and result in tooth loss,” he warns. “The best advice is to call your dentist and have an appropriate evaluation.”
Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS has been seeing a surge in TMJ, too—and calls the number of patients coming to him about it “unprecedented.”
“At few times during my lifetime have I seen the amount of stress and its effect on people as this year,” he says. “Unfortunately, one of the most common reactions to stress is unconscious clenching of teeth. The problem is it does not take long for this habit to cause spasms in the muscles associated with the temporomandibular joint. This, in turn, can create muscle soreness in the mouth resulting in pain, limited opening, and even severe headaches.”
Dr. Goldstein’s suggestion to help “raise awareness” of the unconscious need to clench is to place signs—which his office hands out to patients—that say, “Lips Together, Teeth Apart.”
“The signs can be pasted on the dashboard of your car, computer keyboard, in your kitchen or any other area where you might be under more stress.”
Likewise, he urges patients to conduct this simple at-home test to determine if your mouth muscles are under stress: “Place your index finger between your cheek and parallel with your last upper molar and press upward. If you feel pain, or even discomfort, your external pterygoid muscle may be in spasm. Your dentist can test your other intraoral muscles to see just how severe your muscle spasms are to suggest treatment. This may mean constructing a well-fitting TMJ appliance to help cure the problem, as part of an overall treatment plan.”
Dr. Kasarsky also recommends nightguards and says he’s been prescribing therapeutic Botox injections into the masseter muscles to curtail bruxism damage.
New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD backs that move and says she has, similarly, been hearing a lot of patients describe jaw-related pain during the pandemic. “Lots of dentists send their patients over for Botox,” she says. “I love doing Botox in the masseter because it not only helps with the clenching, but it also helps facial reshaping and can help make a square jaw more feminine.”
“It can be good for health and aesthetic reasons!”
While he admits he can’t necessarily say he’s seen an increase in TMJ cases during COVID, Malibu, CA cosmetic dentist Bob S. Perkins, DDS says any kind of stress can cause a whole lot of pain points and smile issues.
“It is true that stress, though not the source of TMJ problems, will often make all problems worse; TMJ is no exception,” Dr. Perkins shares. “I would expect that TMJ-related problems: Neck pain, chronic headaches, pain in the joint and jaw, TMJ clicking and noises, ringing of the ear, ear congestion, etc., are likely to be exacerbated during this difficult and stressful time.”
Of course, like many pain-related issues, Dr. Goldstein says his number-one suggestion is to not ignore it too long. “Do NOT neglect the problem thinking it will ‘go away.’ Chances are, unless you are self-diagnosing the problem early enough, it will get worse even leading to neck, shoulder and other painful problems.”