Mask Wearing & TMJ

Could Wearing a Mask Cause Jaw Pain? 

I may start calling my blog "The Sister Files" since I have yet another reference to my sister and issues she tends to have with her body!

This particular issue is in regards to jaw pain, (which some people reference as "TMJ"), and how it may relate to the frequent wearing of a mask.

While on vacation a few weeks ago, my sister complained about her jaw hurting her. She said she was unable to close her teeth completely and when chewing had severe pain in her jaw.  She did not have what I consider a "mechanism of injury" such as suffering a blow to her jaw, recent dental work, or chewing ice or gum for a prolonged period of time. 

She felt very strongly that her jaw pain was related to her wearing a mask. She said that she needed to breathe differently while wearing a mask, with her mouth open, and that meant that her lower jaw was somewhat extended or jutting-out, away from it's normal position. I understood what she meant as I have turned into a bit of a "mouth-breather" myself when I wear a mask.

An additional consideration was that since the easing of the quarantine, she was out of the house wearing a mask more often, with her jaw, neck and head spending more time in this "mask" position.  In my professional opinion, the use of a mask for her was causing her to have this jaw pain. 

Upon evaluation she had pain with full closure and clenching of the teeth, limited opening, malalignment of the top and bottom front teeth, and reduced side to side movement of the jaw only in one direction.  I also assessed her posture and alignment of her head, neck, and shoulders. 

This lead me to the conclusion that her poor posture combined with prolonged mouth-breathing and the hanging of the jaw down and open, lead to muscle imbalances in the neck and jaw. These muscle imbalances lead to the TMJ being out of alignment, and therefore creating pain when the teeth were clenching down to chew. The repeitive stress on the joint will cause inflammation, leading to more pain and therefore more alignment issues. 

The Treatment (while on vacation!):

  • Application and instruction in muscular releases surrounding the jaw, and in the head and neck.

  • Postural instruction to maintain proper shoulder, neck, head, and jaw alignment, more consistently and more upright throughout the day.

  • Reduce additional stressors such as chewing and eating bagels, steak, or anything that would require more rigourous grinding and clenching of the teeth.

  • Ice or heat were encouraged.

Within a day she reported a noticeable improvement in the alignment of the jaw and a reduction in pain with full teeth closure. Chewing felt better. Proper alignment was returning to allow normal closure of the teeth. There were set-backs which can be attributed to her feeling better.  As she felt better she challenged her jaw more by eating tougher foods and was not as strict with wathcing her posture, leading her to moments of pain...which helped remind her to be more consistent!   

With further time and consistency the problem was relieved within 1-2 weeks, which meant she did not need to leave her vacation and have an emergency visit wtih her dentist.  

The biggest take-away is that while we are wearing a mask, we may be changing how we position our head, neck and jaw, causing muscular tightness and joint alignment issues.  This change may cause pain somewhere else in your body, like in this case in the jaw. This can be fixed with simply being more aware of these changes and trying to correct them before they cycle in to a bigger problem. 

If you are noticing neck pain, headaches, or jaw pain, and not sure why or how to fix it, please give me a call. I would be happy to sit down with you and review what may be going on and discuss if physical therapy is right for you. Call Cindy at 860-507-7365 or email Cindy at cindy@bodyfitphysicaltherapy.com.

For more information about TMJ Pain/Jaw Pain, visit my website for the section regarding this issue--CLICK HERE for more information. 

Thank you and Be Well!

Cindy