Q: I'm 34 and a healthy mom of three kids. Recently I developed severe pain along my jaw and the side of my face. What could be causing it and what kind of doctor should I see about it? -- Sonia G., Miami, Florida
A: It sounds like you're clenching your jaws and grinding your teeth. That can exert 300 or more pounds of pressure on your teeth, causing extremely sore muscles, broken teeth/fillings/crowns, eroded tooth enamel, and migraine headaches. You can even have trouble opening your mouth.
Dentists report seeing a lot of distress and damage like this as a result of the tension associated with the pandemic. A 2020 Israeli study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that since the start of the pandemic, the prevalence of symptoms of jaw clenching and teeth grinding had skyrocketed, especially among young working mothers with kids at home: Daytime jaw-clenching rose from about 17% to 32% in people surveyed and nighttime teeth-grinding went up from 10% to 36%.
Fortunately, your dentist can ease your discomfort and protect your teeth. There are specific jaw-relaxing exercises and massage techniques you can learn, and you can get an individually-fitted mouthguard that's worn at night. (True, you can buy an over-the-counter mouth guard -- but you should get a fitted one when you can.)
To ease the pain, you also need to look at your body posture. Folks who spend hours at a computer tend to push their head forward, creating tension between upper and lower teeth and in the neck muscles, says Leopoldo Correa, associate professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and director of the school's Craniofacial Pain Center. If that's you, get a high-backed chair or one with a head rest. Position your keyboard and screen so you don't have to strain forward to use them. Take frequent breaks and stretch.
If you act now, you can stop the immediate pain and avoid serious dental problems down the road.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at youdocsdaily(at sign)sharecare.com.
(c)2021 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.