“ANY CHANGE, EVEN A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER, IS ALWAYS ACCOMPANIED BY DISCOMFORTS”.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the lives and lifestyle of billions around the world. Social distancing, washing and sanitizing hands at regular intervals, wearing a mask while in public are some of the basic protocols to be followed by everyone to save themselves from an invisible enemy. The terms like N95 was new for the public in general but the government, government officials, non-profit organizations and others have tried their best to make the people understand and make them aware of its importance. And to our surprise, the person who had not even heard of such things before in his/her life has now started following all norms of wearing facemask all the time whenever in public.
The facemask with social distancing helps in preventing the infection of air-borne covid 19 coronavirus. But, as every coin has two sides, so it does. Though facemasks are helping in saving the lives from deadly virus, but it has raised a concern for jaw problems (temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders) in many. Many cases have been reported and published suggesting that the TMJ problems have an increasing trend during the ongoing pandemic phase. The symptoms have been found to be worsened in the patients already having such pattern of disease with new cases coming up.
The various causes behind temporomandibular disorders include:
1. Parafunctional habits like night bruxism, tooth clenching etc.
2. Emotional distress
3. Acute trauma to the jaw bone
4. Trauma from hyperextension like long duration dental appointment
5. Maloccluded teeth
6. Joint laxity
7. Rheumatic arthritis or musculoskeletal disorders
8. Unhealthy lifestyle
Wearing a mask for longer durations leads to tension in muscles around the joint making the jaw tight especially if the patient has put his chin forward while wearing a mask to keep it tight. The loops of the mask around the ear also add on the stress of the muscles in around the jaw and jaw joint. Also, the complete lockdown phase during the COVID 19 pandemic has brought many people on the verge of mental health issues including stress and anxiety. The pandemic has paused the life of lakhs of people playing on their minds and causing stress. A stressed person is seen with the habit of clenching or grinding the teeth mostly in the night time. In addition to this, the regular clenching or grinding of teeth can affect your temporomandibular joint, the same joint because of which you are able to move your jaw upwards or downwards and sidewards helping in chewing the food, speaking, laughing and other such activities. The resorption of the joint or the muscular stress in the area may further aggravate the situation. The stressor muscular spasm may lead to unbearable pain in the area or can even lead to the reduced mouth opening affecting the daily cycle. Some reports hypothesize the cause behind jaw problems is decreased oxygen levels while wearing a mask but in reality the pain and discomfort arises due to muscular spasm caused due to the mask loops resting on the ears.
Sometimes, people also experience severe headaches after they wear a mask for a longer period of time. This is mainly because the tighter loops of the mask around the ear twitches the trigeminal nerve and its branches beneath it leading to a low grade headache. The tension in the nerve travels to the brain causing a sense of pain.
What are the symptoms you will experience?
1. Pain in the joint
2. Swelling around the jaw joint
3. Tinnitus and pain around the ear
5. Clicking sound while opening and closing the jaw
6. Difficulty in opening the mouth after waking up in the morning (a condition called as ‘lock jaw’)
7. Muscular spasm around the jaw joint
What you can do so as not to aggravate the symptoms?
Wearing mask is one thing that can/should not be avoided by anyone as it is life saviour of this era. But, one can always go for looser mask or mask with loops not resting on ears. This will help in releasing the pressure from the ears. Also, try not to make your jaw tight or teeth clench when wearing a mask. This will cause can undue pressure on the jaw joint leading to muscular spasm. The thumb rule is to always breathe through nose. The undue opening of the mouth while breathing may lead to muscular spasm around the joint.
The temporomandibular joint disease is a serious problem that can affect the lifestyle of an individual. The care of our body is in our hands. Apart from taking the primary precautions by ourselves, a regular visit to TMJ specialists (the doctors/dentists who deals with jaw joint disorders) is always mandatory to lead a healthy life.