Pandemic Jaw Pain

tmj, toothache, dental pain, jaw pain, neck pain, teeth grinding, acupuncture

In a recent NY Times article, a New York City dentist remarked on the significant increase in cases of cracked or chipped teeth during the pandemic. The explanation is simple: with the stress we are all under, and with so many people working in makeshift home offices, poor posture and teeth grinding abound! Lousy posture can feed into jaw tension and if left unchecked may cause serious issues- migraine headaches, insomnia, tinnitus, chronic TMJ(temporo-mandibular joint pain), toothaches, dental damage and more. I, too, have seen this very thing in my practice. Everyone I have treated since re-opening has complained of anxiety and stress, with a disproportionate number experiencing headaches, jaw tightness and upper back/neck pain from poor posture at their home computers.


Many times, people are unaware that they are grinding their teeth, as it often occurs at night during sleep. Some people develop a jaw clenching habit even during daytime hours when they are concentrating for long periods or feeling stressed. Relaxing the jaw and reducing the disquietude are keys to treating this. Acupuncture not only helps loosen up the tension in the jaw muscles and those around the ears, cheeks, and temples, but also addresses the anxiety and insomnia that gives rise to these habits. If muscle strain is feeding into the condition, local and distal acupuncture points that loosen up the neck and back muscles may be needled as well.


As with most health problems, there are many possible syndromes in Chinese medicine that underly TMJ. It may be a local trauma or something systemic, for example liver qi stagnation which leads to emotional distress. This particular disharmony, while fairly common in normal times, has skyrocketed during the pandemic. If you are getting frequent headaches or waking up with tension in your jaw, bring it to my attention at your next visit. It might be a good idea to make an appointment for a checkup with your dentist and possibly get fitted for a custom mouth guard, which protects the teeth from damage. Review your home office for proper ergonomics. We cannot always eliminate the external stress in our lives, but we can and should take preventative and corrective measures with our health to prevent further illness.

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