The stress and anxiety associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic is showing in people’s mouths, say dentists who report an increase in cases of patients with cracked, broken and damaged teeth in the past 20 months.
Bruce Ward, a dentist in the Vancouver area, said he is noticing the pressures of the pandemic are causing more and more people to involuntarily clench their jaws and grind their teeth with extreme force while they sleep.
“It’s as if two pieces of ivory are rubbing together,” Ward said, describing the squeaking sound that others first noticed first.
Signs of teeth grinding are a sore jaw in the morning, headaches, and sore teeth, but sometimes it’s much worse, he said.
“I extracted two teeth (recently) that were split down the middle and bottom of the tooth and the other side,” Ward said, of the patient’s teeth which were weakened from the grinding.
Ward, former president of the British Columbia Dental Association, said he has attended Zoom meetings with colleagues who say they are seeing more damaged teeth in recent times due to grinding, a known condition under the name of bruxism.
“In particular, over the last year and a half it’s been a huge increase across our business,” he said.
Grinding of teeth and clenching of jaws are generally linked to stress, and people’s stress levels have increased during the pandemic, Ward said.
The teeth are designed to withstand the pressure of chewing, but the involuntary grinding dramatically increases function, to the point where teeth can crack, chip or loosen, he said.
“It’s very harmful to your joints and it really puts stress on your muscles,” Ward said. “It also stresses your teeth. It’s huge, the force on your teeth.
Dentists generally recommend that patients start using a special mouthpiece at night to protect their teeth and take steps to reduce stress in their lives.
“A lot of people say to me, ‘How can I stop it? “, Said Ward. “And I say, ‘Move over to Fiji, sell whatever you’ve got and lay on the beach all day.'”
Nirmala Raniga, an addictions and mental health counselor from Vancouver, said the pandemic has put extra stress on people and can manifest in many different forms and places, including people’s mouths.
“Stress causes problems in the mouth where at night you can squeeze, squeak and it causes headaches, migraines,” she said. “It causes tooth fractures and fillings. “
Raniga said that grinding and clenching of teeth at night and speaking during sleep are signs of the body’s attempts to resolve emotional issues.
“It’s a way to release stress,” she said. “Your body releases stress by crushing, so the idea is how to release your stress by working on those painful memories. “
The Canadian Dental Association has said the evidence for increased teeth grinding problems during the pandemic is anecdotal, but delaying oral health care can lead to health problems.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of many people and has likely disrupted the good habits and daily routines of individuals,” Dr. Aaron Burry, the association’s associate director general of professional affairs, said in a statement.
“More frequent snacking, consumption of sweeter foods and drinks, failure to respect regular dental visits and failure to respect regular brushing and flossing can have consequences”, a- he declared.
The dental association cited a March 2021 report from the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute in which more than 70% of dentists surveyed said they were seeing an increase in the number of patients grinding and clenching their teeth, with conditions associated with stress.
The nonprofit association represents 163,000 member dentists and is the largest dental association in the United States.
McGill University published research last April which concluded that good oral health reduced the risk of death from COVID-19.
Researchers reported that COVID-19 patients with gum disease were 3.5 times more likely to end up in an intensive care unit, 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator, and near nine times more likely to die than those without gum disease.
The Canadian Dental Association website suggests seeing a dentist about bruxism and relaxation techniques to use during the day and before bed.
“Practice stress reduction activities, such as staying physically active, yoga and meditation, deep breathing exercises, massage therapy, listening to music, and / or taking a bath,” the website says.
A nutritious diet and limits on caffeine and alcohol are also suggested as ways to reduce stress and make teeth grinding easier, according to the association.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press