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wearing a mask causes TMJ symptoms, tmj, bruxism, ear loops, trigeminal nerve, tmj doctor in New York, donald tanenbaum

Why Wearing A Mask Can Cause TMJ Symptoms

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: July 30, 2020

Wearing a mask all day is routine for some people, including dentists and surgeons. It’s just part of their jobs and they’re used to it. For everyone else wearing a mask for all (or most) of the day is completely unnatural. And, what’s going on under our masks can cause many problems – because wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms to emerge.

Without even realizing it, you may be pressing your lips together in a pursed position or clenching your teeth under your mask. These are normal human reactions to fear, anxiety, and worry. But, when the jaw and facial muscles in this contracted position for an extended length of time, they become overworked. And, like any other muscle in your body, when jaw and facial muscles become overworked, lactic acid accumulates. That irritates the nerve fibers running through the overworked muscles. The result is pain. Sometimes, “really bad pain.”

4 Ways to Reduce (or Avoid) TMJ Symptoms While Wearing a Mask

Most of us are required to wear a mask in public these days. As a board-certified orofacial pain specialist, I’m have been seeing patients whose previous symptoms are getting worse, people whose previously-resolved symptoms have returned, and many people who never had TMJ problems in their lives. Here a few of the tips I give them to help reduce their TMJ pain and/or minimize the potential for pain to emerge:

  1. Avoid Chin-Pullavoid ear pulling mask, wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms, donald tanenbaum, tmj doctor in nyc, tmj doctor in long island
    Most masks extend under the chin, and that’s a good thing. If you wear a homemade or surgical mask you’re probably pretty comfortable because it fits loosely. But, if you wear an N95 or KN95 mask, it fits tighter and applies tension to your chin that pulls your jaw upwards. Many of us are unconsciously and repeatedly pushing down on our chin attempting to move the mask away and release the tension. As a consequence, we experience fatigued and sore muscles. I recommend only wearing tight N95 or KN 95 masks if you’re out shopping, plan to be in a crowded area with poor ventilation, are using public transportation, or will be in a public space with other people for a sustained period of time. Because wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms, I recommend your use a less-restricting mask when you’re not in a risky environment.
  2. Stop Using Ear Loopsavoid ear pulling mask, wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms, donald tanenbaum, tmj doctor in nyc, tmj doctor in long island
    Earloops that pull and tug on your ears are another reason why wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms. They can cause pain that can be felt from your ears, across your jaw joints, and into your face – all within a short period of time. Some people even get headaches that extend from their ears into their temples. The culprit is the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve (visible in the diagram above) is responsible for face and jaw sensations and influences the muscles that allow you to move your jaw. When your mask’s ear loops are constantly tugging, the trigeminal nerve can become excessively excited, resulting in pain and tension in your jaw muscles. A great solution to this problem is ear savers. Ear savers allow you to ditch earloops and eliminate the maddening pulling they can cause. If you’re crafty, you can make them yourself – there are lots of instructional videos on YouTube). For the rest of us, it’s easy to find them online. In fact, Etsy has a huge selection of ear savers and they are very affordable.
  3. Keep Your Neck Muscles Loosesore neck, wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms, donald tanenbaum, tmj doctor in nyc, tmj doctor in long island
    Another reason that wearing a mask can cause TMJ symptoms involves your neck. Your mask can cause you to change your normal head position. That can have a negative impact on your neck muscles. Several of my patients, after sometimes just a few hours of mask-wearing, experience stiff and aching neck muscles. Their tense neck muscles ultimately lead to jaw pain and sometimes limited jaw motion – typical symptoms of TMJ. If your neck is stiff and sore, check out Bob and Brad’s neck exercises on YouTube. Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck are physical therapists. They offer advice, tips, and information on how to stay healthy, fit, and pain-free. (They’re very entertaining, too).
  4. Smile!mask can cause TMJ symptoms, donald tanenbaum, There’s a pretty good chance that while your face is covered by a mask, you don’t smile very much. Plus, if you have your lips pursed and your teeth clenched under your mask,  there’s a good possibility that you’re holding your breath, too.

Try to keep a smile on your face when your mask is on. This may seem ridiculous because no one can see your mouth, but try to keep your lips loose and your teeth apart as much as possible. Concentrate on your breath now and then, which also helps your jaw to relax.

It’s True: Wearing A Mask Can Cause TMJ Symptoms

There’s no question we live in very stressful times and, for most people, wearing a mask feels unnatural. If you already have TMJ symptoms or want to avoid them, please try some of the tips in this post. You can be safe and comfortable at the same time.

Live or work in New York City or on Long Island? You can schedule a consultation with me here or call 212-265-0110



DISCLAIMER: The advice offered in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, we in no way offer a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendation for your particular situation. Our intent is solely educational and our responses to your actual questions serve as a springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in a day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified professional.

4 replies on “Why Wearing A Mask Can Cause TMJ Symptoms”

I have only recently been diagnosed with TMJ, something I have never suffered with in my lift before and after reading your article I am know convinced the cause is wearing a face mask. I am going to give the smiling under my mask a go and see if it helps as the ear loops seem fine but maybe try the ear savers too if that doesn’t work.
Thanks for putting this information out there 🙂

Hi Shelly,

You’re not alone! Keep smiling and hopefully you’ll feel better soon. Thanks for reading!

Dr. Tanenbaum

I have also been diagnosed with TMJ (2020) its almost a year now. I’ve gone through specialist after specialist and pain is still there its uncomfortable no ointment seems to help relief. I was so close into booking a massage I also believe that the mask have huge part i this. I will definitely continue with the smile behind the mask.

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