CLEVELAND, Ohio — Since the pandemic began, dentists have seen an uptick of patients grinding in their teeth.
The cause? Pandemic induced stress.
Bruxism, better known as teeth grinding, can lead to a host of issues, including enamel wear and headaches. Cracked teeth, tooth decay, soreness, lockjaw, tenderness in the gum, and biting inside the cheek are all possible effects.
Stress and how the body reacts can play a key role in overall oral health says, Dr. Matthew Messina, the interim director of the OSU College of Dentistry. “One of the negative things the body can do is isometric muscle contraction — which is clenching and grinding.”
The stress of the coronavirus is manifesting itself in all sorts of ways.
A Cleveland Clinic survey of American men found that about 77% reported increased stress caused by the pandemic. The stress is also attributing to a rise in cases of broken-heart syndrome. And as the pandemic drags on, fatigue is setting in.
Using muscles to push teeth together and grinding around is one of the body’s ways of reducing the energy made from the stress, Messina said.
For treatment, dentists can offer help with bite guards that patients can wear overnight to protect their teeth.
But that’s not the only dental issue facing Americans during the pandemic.
Many people postponed regular cleanings while dental offices were closed during stay-at-home orders or after, in a fear of catching the coronavirus. A comfort food diet of junk food could also expose the teeth to sugars that result in acid production from oral bacteria leading to dental decay.
“There is hope and everyone has the ability to reduce the harmful effects of dental disease,” said Dr. Karyn Kahn of the Cleveland Clinic. “These include recognizing and discontinuing daytime clenching; exercise daily to help reduce muscle tension and brush teeth after every meal (including snacks),.”
Dr. Leena Palomo, a dental professor at Case Western Reserve University said that delaying dental appointments can also be a significant factor in good oral health care. “Oral health is a big part of overall wellness, so keeping up with dentists’ visits is very important in the pandemic,” she said.
Palomo recommends placing self-care and stress management as a top priority during the pandemic.
“We need to be clear that dental check-ups and cleanings should not be delayed due to COVID. Thanks to the Ohio State Dental Board, the American Dental Association, and the CDC, local offices have excellent guidance on safety protocols. On the other hand, putting off needed dental maintenance is known to cause big problems down the road,” she said
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