COVID & Oral Health

COVID & Oral Health

The effects of COVID have been immeasurable.  Financially, mentally, and physically, we all have been through the ringer over the past 3+ years.  But the effects of all that stress have been particularly evident in our mouths.

Pandemic-related stress and anxiety has led to an increase in the prevalence of clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.  Since returning to the office in June 2020, we have seen a marked increase in the number of patients with:

  • cracked or broken teeth and fillings
  • broken teeth and fillings
  • increased sensitivity
  • tooth wear from grinding
  • jaw pain from clenching and grinding.

The surge in tooth trauma can be directly linked to living in a world with COVID.

Contributing factors

Makeshift workspaces

Working from home has many of us in makeshift workspaces – at the kitchen table, in the bedroom, on a couch – none of these is ergonomically ideal.  It forces us into awkward body positions that can cause poor posture and misalignment of joints.   Furthermore, poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.

Grinding & clenching

In addition to the physical stresses, most of us do not get the restorative sleep we need and this has been amplified by the stresses of living through a pandemic.  Restlessness and insomnia are prevalent symptoms, hallmarks of an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which drives the body’s “fight or flight” response.  In the face of COVID, we all have been in an extended state of arousal and all of that tension goes straight to the teeth.

You may not even be aware that you are clenching or grinding your teeth.  Your dentist can help diagnose this and make recommendations to help you overcome the effects of stress.

Diet

Stress undoubtedly has led many of us to more frequent snacking, consuming more sugary foods and beverages.  With these diet changes, it’s more important than usual to keep up with regular brushing and flossing as well as regular dental visits in order to maintain one’s dental health.

 

 

 

 

Read Dr. Abrams’ article on the topic:

Increase in Tooth Fractures During COVID-19    CDA Oasis, Oct 2020 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you can do

Get fitted for a bite splint or “nightguard”

There are treatments available that can help.  One of the most common first steps in treatment is to make a plastic bite splint that will protect your teeth from further damage. Typically, this bite splint is worn on the lower jaw, while sleeping. The plastic splint protects the teeth by slightly opening the resting position of your teeth and preventing the teeth from making direct contact. Wear patterns on a bite splint are preferable to cracked tooth enamel or teeth! Bite splints may even be recommended when grinding is mild, if your bite will benefit from extra protection.

A custom-made nightguard provides a physical barrier that absorbs and disperses pressure.

Reconfigure your workspace

Even if you have returned to working at an office, many people are in a hybrid model where they still work from home at least part of the week.  Along with the many benefits associated with working from home (saving commute times and costs, improving one’s work-life balance, etc.) it’s important to address the physical component of that change.

Ideally, when seated, your shoulders should be over your hips, and your ears should be over your shoulders.

Computer screens should be at eye level; prop up your monitor or laptop on a box or a stack of books if you don’t have an adjustable chair or desk.

Good posture throughout the workday can have positive effects on your overall health.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to any treatments recommended by your dentist, there are many things you can do to help yourself.

  • Avoid or cut back on foods and drinks that contain caffeine (eg. colas, chocolate, coffee, tea)
  • Avoid chewing gum or hard foods
  • Avoid cradling the phone on your shoulder – this can strain the muscles in your neck and jaw
  • Avoid alcohol. Grinding tends to intensify after alcohol consumption
  • Get plenty of rest and avoid sleeping pills
  • Exercise regularly – even something as simple as stretching can do a lot to decompress and elongate the spine as well as release and relieve tension
  • Avoid chewing on pens, pencils, or anything that is not food
  • Stay aware of the effect stress is having on your life and try to consciously control your reaction to it
  • When you notice that your teeth are clenched, make a practice of consciously relaxing your jaw and repositioning your tongue and teeth.
  • Quiet your mind – something as simple as lying still and focusing on your breath (in through your nose, out through your mouth) can slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and allow for more restful, restorative sleep. The more relaxed your body, the less likely you are to grind your teeth through the night, allowing you to wake up with less tension in the jaw.

Prevention is always the most important thing

 

Gum disease and COVID

An international study led by researchers at McGill University found that those with poor dental hygiene and gum disease tend to experience more severe COVID-19 symptoms. The study found that those with gum disease were 3.5 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care, 4.5 times more likely to need a ventilator, and almost nine times more likely to die compared to those without gum disease.  Maintain your routine of brushing twice a day and flossing regularly.  Good oral health can help mitigate the severity of COVID.

 

Regular dental visits

At every check-up, the dentist and hygienist look for signs of excessive tooth wear.  The 6-month check-up is an ideal time to discuss your concerns with grinding or clenching and the associated symptoms.

Teeth are naturally brittle, and everyone has tiny fissures in their teeth from chewing, grinding and everyday use. Teeth are designed to withstand chewing pressure, but involuntary grinding increases the function dramatically, to the point where teeth can crack, chip, or loosen.  They can take only so much before they eventually break.

We want to prevent these microscopic cracks from growing into larger cracks or breaks.  Left undetected, these small problems can lead to a major failure that may require root canal, a crown, or other major dental treatment.

 

In addition to good home care, it makes sense to stick to your regular schedule of preventative check-ups and cleanings.

GET IN TOUCH WITH US

Cliffcrest Dental

2995 Kingston Rd, Scarborough,
ON M1M 1P1, Canada