Is the Pandemic Damaging Your Teeth?

The COVID-19 pandemic and the stresses that have come with it have affected every aspect of our lives—including, it turns out, our dental health.

To gain a better understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted dental practices, the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute has been conducting biweekly polls during the pandemic. The results of a poll conducted the week of February 15, 2021, shed light on how the stresses of the pandemic have impacted patients: Stress-related oral conditions have been on the rise since the pandemic began.

More grinding, chipping and cracking

Over 70 percent of dentists surveyed for the February poll said they’ve noticed an increase in patients who are clenching and grinding their teeth—habits often associated with stress that can damage teeth. Last fall when the same question was asked, only 60 percent of dentists reported a rise in the number of such patients, indicating that the pandemic’s impact is still growing.

Sixty-three percent of dentists in the February poll reported that they’re seeing more patients with chipped and/or cracked teeth and an almost equal number—62 percent—said they’re seeing more patients complaining of headaches and jaw pain, issues that point to teeth clenching and grinding.

If you suspect you’re clenching or grinding your teeth (perhaps you’ve caught yourself doing it, or someone close to you has pointed it out), it’s important to make an appointment with your dentist. He or she can check your teeth and take steps to lessen the effects of grinding and protect your teeth.

Treatment options

Your dentist might make you a mouth guard or splint to keep your upper and lower teeth separated, prescribe short-term medications for anxiety, stress or depression, or direct you to take a muscle relaxant before bed for a period of time.

If the problem seems to be related to a sleep issue, your dentist might refer you to a sleep medicine specialist to see if you have a sleep disorder. If he or she suspects your problems are due to anxiety or another psychological issue, you may be referred to a counselor or therapist.

With a team approach to care and thoughtful treatment, you can reduce the impact of pandemic stress and escape lasting dental damage.