Edmonton

'Mask mouth' and 'mask jaw': Tips to alleviate the discomfort of covering up

Some workers who wear a mask throughout the day, adding stress to their jaws and giving rise to headaches, are finding ways to alleviate that tension without ditching the most widespread COVID-19 prevention tool.

‘I realized the jaw muscles were very, very tight and I was clenching more’ 

Massage therapist Laura Barr puts on her mask as she gets ready for work. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

As a massage therapist, Laura Barr wears a mask, sometimes up to 10 hours a day. 

"I noticed I was getting quite severe ear pain, like an earache," said Barr who runs a massage therapy clinic out of her home. "At first I thought I had an ear infection so I went and got that checked out and it wasn't that."

Her dentist told her "mask jaw" is a real problem, Barr said. 

The mask has become the most ubiquitous garment during the COVID-19 pandemic. But one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread for all has become a source of chronic pain for others.

Some workers who wear a mask throughout the day, adding stress to their jaw and giving rise to headaches, are finding ways to alleviate that tension without ditching the most widespread COVID-19 prevention tool.

'Jaw muscles were very tight' 

It turns out wearing a mask was flaring up existing problems with Barr's jaw joint.  

She experienced issues for several years with her temporomandibular joint, which connects the jawbone and skull. Wearing a mask for the entire work day added more stress. 

"I realized the jaw muscles were very, very tight," Barr said. "I was clenching more than normal and then I started paying attention to my habits with my mask," she said.

To alleviate the tightness around her jaw, Barr looped her mask around the back of her head instead of behind her ears, which she says doesn't pull back on her jaw quite as much.  

She says some of her own clients have complained about jaw soreness. 

"I realized it was muscular and from pushing my jaw forward and I've noticed I'm doing a lot more temporomandibular joint work on clients," Barr said. 

'I would get a headache'

Hayden L'Heureux serves coffee all day long while wearing a mask.

Initially he felt the strain, but changed the type of mask he wore. 

"I would get a headache because it would pull on my ears a lot. It varies from person to person and the type of mask you have is very important," said L'Heureux who manages Lui-Chi's Coffee in the Phipps-McKinnon building downtown. 

Professionals say on top of jaw pain and headache complaints, they're also seeing problems like bad breath, gum disease, and dry mouth, especially when someone tries to get more air through their mouth, instead of breathing through their nose.   

'Strain on your jaw'  

"When we constantly breath through our mouths, our mouths are open and if we don't pay attention to that it puts a strain on our jaw," said Anitka Helliker, a dental hygienist who owns Floss Bosses, a south side dental hygiene clinic. 

Helliker says keeping your mouth closed, with your tongue up against the roof of your mouth and breathing through your nose will help prevent a number of other problems too. 

"The main reason for saliva is for the protection of our mouths," said Helliker, a specialist in facial muscles. 

Anitka Helliker talks to her client before cleaning his teeth at Floss Bosses, a dental hygiene clinic. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

"When the quality of saliva changes it puts us more at risk of having gum disease. Soft tissues is the first thing that you're going to see changes in." 

As for ear or jaw pain caused by wearing a mask, she says the first step is to consult an expert and look at different mask options. 

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