Updated: Sep 9
I have been practicing clinical dentistry since 2009 and in the last 12 months, I am seeing the highest amount of TMJ and facial muscle pain. I am observing flat teeth, enlarged jaw muscles and loose teeth as a result of clenching and grinding. Facial muscles are like your bicep muscles. When you exercise them, they will grow. Can you imagine doing bicep curls for five to eight hours straight? Well, this is what your jaw muscles are doing at night. Continue reading to find out more about what COVID Clench is, what causes the clench, and what you can do to prevent or stop the results.
What is COVID Clench?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, dentists have documented an elevated amount of tooth grinding, jaw pain, and jaw clenching from their patients. The term is used to explain the elevated number of cases we are seeing in the clinic. There are a few typical symptoms we see from someone who clenches their teeth.
Symptoms of the clench include:
Enlarged jaw muscles
This wear and tear on your mouth is not normal. In fact, when you think about it, your teeth never really touch each other in your mouth. When you are standing, the jaw is slightly open and when you eat, typically food is in between. However, when your body is under a lot of stress, it may subconsciously clench the jaw, especially at night.
What Causes COVID Clench?
COVID Clench is biologically caused by continual clenching of the jaw, causing your jaw muscles to constantly be engaged. Grinding is also another thing we typically see evidence of when dealing with COVID Clench. Eventually, your muscles will fatigue and cause the symptoms listed above. Typically, patients who are stressed out fall victim to the clench. This makes a lot of sense considering the recent events in the world, and hence the nickname COVID Clench.
What Can Help Solve COVID Clench?
If left untreated, the wear and tear from grinding and clenching can cause serious long-term damage to the teeth and jaw structure.
For Muscle Relief
Just like when you have muscle pain in your back, an at-home jaw massage can relieve tension. Take a look at the masseter muscle. This is where you will likely be feeling the pain. To relieve this, I recommend using a finger of one hand and the thumb of the other. Place both in the middle of the cheek, pressing and stretching; one hand presses and pulls towards the bottom of the jaw while the other hand stretches towards the cheek bone. You should feel some muscle relief at this point. Try it right now and feel that instant relief!
For Long-term Solution and Prevention
Muscle relief is great for the short-term, but to prevent further damage, you need a long-term solution. The best option for you, and what works for me as a dentist, is a custom acrylic night guard. The cost of a night guard is significantly lower than the costs that could arise from severe tooth damage. The guard encapsulates your upper teeth as if each one has its own sport's helmet and transfers forces around the tooth. The slight bulk of the material allows your tight muscles to stretch and relax. It can help your oral health short and long term.