CHICAGO – Along with everything else, COVID-19 is also causing problems with our teeth.
That’s what dentists are saying after treating patients who’ve been under stress during the pandemic and taking it out on their teeth. Dentists have experienced more stress-related oral health issues during the pandemic, according to local providers and the American Dental Association.
“People clench more, grind more, grind their teeth more,” said Dr. Rana Stino, dentist and partner at Water Tower Dental Care in Chicago. “Even their bite guards break.”
ADA’s Health Policy Institute conducted a survey in October that found dentists were reporting an increase in stress-related conditions such as clenching or clenching of the jaw, chipped teeth, cracked teeth and joint dysfunction.
According to the survey, 69 percent of dentists saw an increase in patients grinding and clenching their teeth, and 63 percent said they saw more patients with chipped teeth and broken teeth, all conditions often associated with stress.
Stino has seen more of all of these issues, and that leads to conversations with patients about how they might be experiencing stress. Some don’t even realize they’re grinding their teeth at night. Especially early in the pandemic, when a dentist’s office was one of the few places patients actually went, they revealed stress over losing a job or juggling kids at home.
“You can see some really distinctive wear patterns on her teeth, you can see some cheek bite marks, those are textbook signs,” Stino said.
She will also refer patients to physical therapists for pain in their neck, shoulders and back. Patients may also complain of headaches or ringing in the ears. All of these symptoms can be due to clenching and grinding that, if left untreated, leads to jaw pain.
In nearly 13 years of practice, Chicago dentist Dr. Karen Fields, whose practice is located at 28 to BRUSH in Forest Park, is experiencing an unprecedented level of stress-related dental problems.
“I can honestly say that in the last two years I’ve seen the largest number of broken teeth that I’ve seen in my career as a doctor,” she said.
Many patients come with broken teeth; She also hears more about headaches and neck pain.
“The pandemic has resulted in increased levels of stress that has led to a psychosocial habit of teeth grinding and clenching,” she said. “When we have increased stressors, we tend to leave them out on our teeth.”
dr Joel Berg is past President of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and Chief Dental Officer at Willo, a company that makes toothbrushes for children. He said more cracked teeth could be attributed to reasons such as people not attending routine grooming appointments or stress.
“Certainly everyone’s stress levels have been elevated during the pandemic,” he said.
Dentists say patients should keep their routine appointments; and parents should ensure their children continue to brush. If you notice broken or chipped teeth, or neck pain and headaches, let your dentist know, they said.
Dentists also note that practices have worked hard to ensure a safe and clean environment.
Reducing stress can help. Anything from relaxing muscles to meditating before bed is a good idea. Dentists can get patients a retainer or mouthguard; Botox is also an option for relieving jaw pain.
Stino herself has experienced more clenching, especially when her three children, ages 14, 11 and 6, received distance learning at home and the dental office was closed for months. She wears a retainer at night and has used botox.
“I can definitely empathize with my patients,” she said.
She reminds patients not to reschedule appointments for primary care, as many health problems can be identified in the mouth first. Crowns can protect teeth; but deeply broken teeth may need to come out.
“Prevention is key,” she said. “The longer they stay, the more difficult it becomes to treat them.”
One good change in the pandemic, Fields added, is that patients are becoming more aware of their breath after breathing with a mask directly on their face and concentrating on the exhaled breath.
“Since we covered our noses and mouths for almost two years, many patients have had the opportunity to focus on their breath and notice when it’s less than comfortable,” Fields said.
Bad breath can be a leading indicator of things like dietary changes — a diet low in fruits and vegetables can cause bad breath, she said — or an unmanaged health condition like diabetes. She reminds patients to brush their tongue and gums.
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