senior woman holding her mouth in painWhether you believe the COVID pandemic is over or if it is ongoing, there’s no doubt that the global outbreak of COVID-19 had a serious impact on people in the US and around the world. We’re still attempting to assess just what that impact is for people with chronic conditions whose care might have been impacted. One new study shows that for people with temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD) were significantly impacted. The study, published in August, shows that people with TMJ saw an increase in pain, stress, and depression over the course of the pandemic. 

If you are struggling with TMJ in the Detroit area, let the TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute help you find relief. 

How the Pandemic Impacted People with TMJ

For this study, researchers assessed 112 people in Seoul, Korea, with painful TMJ. The TMJ wasn’t all the same type. It was divided roughly evenly between people with muscle pain, joint pain, and mixed muscle-and-joint pain. 

People rated their pain levels and emotional status before the global COVID pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020. Researchers collected the after-COVID data between March 2021 and October 2021. Two TMJ specialists conducted the TMJ diagnoses. Each specialist had more than 7 years of experience performing TMJ diagnoses. 

For pain levels, researchers used a simple visual analog scale (VAS)), but for psychological characteristics, they used different questionnaires to assess depression, anxiety, and stress. 

All measured factors increased significantly over the course of the pandemic. In other words, people reported more stress, more anxiety, more depression, and more TMJ pain after the pandemic than before

The Emotional and Physical Escalation of TMJ

Beyond the simple statistical analysis of the ratings for depression, anxiety, stress, and TMJ pain, researchers looked at potential explanations for why these factors increased. 

Researchers found that the strongest predictor of worsening TMJ symptoms was teeth clenching. People who clenched their teeth were much more likely to see their TMJ symptoms, depression, and anxiety increase. In addition, teeth clenching was significantly correlated to stress, which helps to show that the likely causal path was stress leading to clenching and then causing pain. 

This is not the first study to look at the impact of COVID on people with TMJ. Earlier studies reported that more than 50% of people with TMJ reported that their symptoms increased over the course of the pandemic. In another study, 44% of patients said their TMJ worsened, while 70% said their emotional status deteriorated. 

Break the Pain and Depression Cycle of TMJ

Chronic pain conditions commonly lead to depression. Perhaps 85% of people with chronic pain experience depression symptoms. This is partly an impact of their uncurable chronic pain. People develop depression because they feel trapped and restricted by their pain. However, depression also develops directly from the pain. There are biochemical connections that link pain directly to depression symptoms. 

To successfully treat TMJ and depression, it’s important to work on the physical and psychological aspects of TMJ. A team approach to TMJ treatment can yield better results. 

Recommended treatments for TMJ include both physical and psychological approaches. At the Michigan Head and Neck Institute, our Detroit TMJ dentists offer leading-edge approaches to TMJ treatment, starting with precise diagnosis. 

A precise diagnosis includes discussing your medical history, an in-person exam, and medical imaging such as x-ray, ultrasounds, CT scans, and more. Once we determine the type and extent of your TMJ, we will recommend TMJ treatments such as a mouthguard, physical therapy, and trigger point injections. However, we also believe that behavioral therapy can yield great results for people with TMJ. 

In particular, behavioral therapy can help you overcome the behaviors that cause stress to increase your TMJ pain, such as teeth clenching and grinding. These vital steps can break the pain and depression cycle. You will learn how to avoid turning stress into pain. With less pain, your depression can improve. 

However, in some cases, we might also refer you to a mental health professional to help you address depression more directly. 

Relief from TMJ Pain in Detroit

Over the course of the pandemic, many people with TMJ saw their symptoms worsen. This includes many people who used to think their TMJ was manageable with home care. If you used to manage your TMJ at home, but it’s worsened, it might be time to seek professional help. Let the Detroit TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head and Neck Institute help you. 

Please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute, serving the Detroit area from Warren, MI.