It is no secret that COVID-related anxiety is having a major effect on public health, and dental health is no exception. We have observed an increase in prevalence of two major dental issues in particular during this time: cracked teeth and jaw pain as a result of clenching and grinding.
Americans are working from home in unprecedented numbers, often sitting at their home workstations with poor body positioning (or “ergonomics”). These awkward positions can cause us to hunch the shoulders forward, curving the spine in an unhealthy way. Poor posture during the day can translate into a teeth-grinding problem at night.
Additionally, increased levels of societal stress have led to poorer sleep. An inability to turn off the body’s “fight or flight” stress response at bedtime can cause higher levels of tension in the jaw musculature, leading to muscle and joint pain, as well as cracked teeth. It can also cause irreversible damage to the jaw joint (TMJ). A cracked tooth may need a crown, root canal, or if severe enough, can lead to loss of the tooth. Early diagnosis and treatment is key for the most favorable treatment outcome.
Stress management is vitally important for physical and mental health. Regular exercise is a healthy way to reduce stress and promote healthy posture. If you catch yourself clenching or grinding during the day, separate your teeth, put your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. This can help to relieve stress and promote a healthier posture.
One of the best ways to prevent damage to the teeth and jaw due to stress is a custom dental device to wear at night. In more severe cases, a daytime device may also be recommended. A night guard evenly distributes jaw forces and protects the teeth from damage, helping patients avoid problems like worsening dental pain, more time in the dental chair, and increased dental costs associated with fixing damaged teeth.
Minor tooth fractures may not cause any pain at first, which is why it is important to see your dentist at very regular intervals for examination and preventive care. Catching tooth fractures and any other tooth problems early is vital. If you feel you are experiencing worsening symptoms associated with jaw pain, clicking or popping in the jaw joints, increased tooth sensitivity, or tooth pain, please see your dentist right away. You may be able to prevent further damage and help yourself get more restorative sleep in the process!
Dr. Paul Miller is a general dentist with Amelia Gentle Dentistry. For more information, call (904) 277-8500 or visit www.AmeliaGentleDentistry.com.