There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected people’s lives across the globe — socially, economically, physically and emotionally. The impacts on our health, in particular, have been wide and varied.

Many doctors and researchers still don’t understand all the symptoms associated with COVID or its potential long-term effects. However, many dentists see some connections between COVID and jaw pain. Here we look at some interesting research that confirms a sore jaw from COVID is a legitimate and documented side effect.

Is a sore jaw a sign of COVID?

Many people experiencing jaw pain during the pandemic have asked — is a sore jaw a sign of COVID? The general consensus is that jaw pain is not a direct symptom of COVID; however, it may be connected to other symptoms.

One of the common symptoms of COVID is breathing difficulties, which force many sufferers to breathe through their mouths. This constant mouth breathing can cause strain on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), resulting in jaw pain. Additionally, when breathing becomes difficult, different muscles in the neck may be used to assist, which can contribute to pain, both in the neck and jaw. This can be experienced by those who have COVID, or have recovered but are experiencing some long-term side affects. These people are often referred to as “COVID long haulers” or those suffering from “long COVID”.

A study published in 2020 by the Journal of Clinical Medicine also confirms a link between COVID and an increase in jaw pain, but not necessarily by those who have or have had COVID. The survey was undertaken by 1800 participants in Israel and Poland.

The study’s authors noted that “the stress and anxiety associated with the constant threat of illness, economic concerns, and social isolation could lead to adverse health effects”. These include jaw clenching, bruxism (teeth grinding), jaw pain, temporomandibular (TMD) disorders and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders such as TMJ headaches.

The study found that during the first lockdown in Israel, there was a rise in orofacial pain — from 35 per cent prior to the pandemic to 47 per cent. Orofacial pain includes pain associated with the muscles, joints and nerves anywhere in the neck, head, face, mouth, teeth or gums. Some people also experience pain in their eyes, ears, cheeks, sinuses or the side of their head. It is typically associated with stress and anxiety. Bruxism (teeth grinding) increased from ten to 36 per cent, and the prevalence of jaw clenching during the day rose from 17 per cent to around 32 per cent.

What should I do if I have jaw pain?

If you are experiencing jaw pain that you suspect may or may not be related to COVID, it is essential to consult a dental professional. If TMJ is diagnosed, there are several treatment options that can help, including:

  • TMJ exercises for jaw pain — simple stretching exercises that can help relieve TMJ headaches.
  • Joint rest — restricting your jaw movements by keeping your teeth apart when you are at rest, and opening your mouth and moving your jaw from side to side.
  • Cold or heat or cold packs — these are applied directly to painful areas.
  • TMJ physiotherapy — can include relaxation exercises, acupuncture, treatments to strengthen your neck muscles and improve posture.
  • TMJ joint mobilisation — can include timing correction, TMJ movement patterns and TMJ stabilisation exercises.
  • A soft-food diet — eating softened or pureed foods that don’t worsen your jaw pain.
  • Medications — that relieve jaw pain, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants or certain medications to treat depression.
  • A mouth guard or occlusal splint or mouth guard — which may minimise teeth grinding or jaw clenching, especially at night.