KEY POINTS

  • Jaw pain is one of the many symptoms suffered by COVID-19 patients
  • This jaw pain is classified as "temporomandibular disorder" (TMD)
  • Doctors believe the condition is likely caused by open-mouth breathing and stress

An odd but distressing malady among some people recovering from COVID-19 is bouts of jaw pain that make it difficult for them to open their mouths to eat and drink. This condition also interferes with breathing.

This jaw pain, which is technically called a "temporomandibular disorder" (TMD), seems to have two main causes among those recovering from COVID-19: open-mouth breathing among patients struggling to get air, and stress that makes these people clench their jaws or grind their teeth. Some doctors contend TMD might be a lingering side effect of the body fighting-off the coronavirus.

Johns Hopkins University describes TMD as "disorders of the jaw muscles, temporomandibular joints, and the nerves associated with chronic facial pain. Any problem that prevents the complex system of muscles, bones, and joints from working together in harmony may result in temporomandibular disorder."

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) are the joints where the jaw meets the ears. Doctors say the TMJ can often be the site of pain and discomfort.

They also note open-mouth breathing is often seen in people struggling to breathe during the acute phases of COVID-19. This intense struggle to stay alive can put added strain on the TMJ. They also said recovering COVID-19 patients experience more stress and might be clenching their teeth at night, adding to tension at the jaw region.

“With COVID-19 infections, many patients were not able to breathe efficiently and compensate using accessory muscles in their neck to help them breathe.” said Tamar Amitay, a physical therapist, to Fox News. “This can cause the neck muscles that pull on the jaw to become overworked and strained, leading to discomfort in the jaw and neck area."

A doctor who is recovering from COVID-19 said TMD is among the many aches and pains he's having to bear with as he recovers from the disease.

“I was told that it likely occurred from open-mouth breathing while I was struggling to get air in during the early months of recovery,” said Dr. Douglas Dieterich, a hepatologist from New York.

He said he now wears a mouth guard to alleviate strain in the TMJ region and is also doing physical therapy. Like Dr. Dietrich, 80 other recovering patients in one study also reported suffering from TMD.

An image of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 An image of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 Photo: National Institutes of Health / Handout