The effects of COVID-19 are now visible in nearly every aspect of our daily life. Our workspaces, our schedules, and our habits are all changing. Our teeth are not immune to these changes. As reported recently by both the New York Times and CNN, dentists are seeing an uptick in dental issues related to grinding, which can be linked to the stress caused by the pandemic.
In the NY Times article, Dr. Tammy Chen says, “I’ve seen more tooth fractures in the last six weeks than in the previous six years.”
If you have recently been diagnosed with bruxism or suspect you may be grinding your teeth, you are probably wondering what the effects of teeth grinding are.
Many of the effects are mild, but can still be a major inconvenience and hassle:
- Bruxism can lead to headaches. These headaches are referred to as secondary headaches because they are caused by an underlying medical issue in the head (like bruxism.)
- Patients with bruxism will often also experience neck, jaw, and cheek pain. The primary muscle groups involved in grinding are the temporalis, masseter, and lateral pterygoid muscles, which all help our jaw muscles move.
- Grinders can also experience tooth sensitivity. This is caused by the wearing down of enamel which exposes the hot and cold-sensitive dentin layer of your teeth.
- Finally, people with bruxism don’t get great sleep. Sleep is key to overall health and the disruptions caused by grinding can get in the way of catching all the Z’s you need.
- Some of the more severe complications caused by bruxism include tooth fractures, broken crowns, broken fillings, and tooth loss.
It is not enough to know the effects of teeth grinding. It is important to take action to protect your teeth. Dr. Chen has some great recommendations in her article:
- Practice self-awareness and check in with your body: “Are your teeth currently touching?..if so, that’s a sure sign that you’re doing some damage — your teeth shouldn’t actually touch throughout the day at all unless you’re actively eating and chewing your food.”
- Wear your mouthguard or retainer: “These appliances provide a physical barrier, absorbing, and dispersing pressure. As I often tell my patients, I’d much rather you crack a night guard than crack a tooth.”
- Optimize your home office for good posture: “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.”
- Make sure to move: “Try to mix it up with some standing, whenever possible, and incorporate more movement. Use each and every bathroom break, or phone call, as an opportunity to take more steps, no matter how small your home or apartment might be.”
- Stretch it out and relax: “The goal is to decompress and elongate the spine, as well as release and relieve some of that tension and pressure...If you’ve got a bathtub, consider taking a 20-minute Epsom salt soak in the evening.”
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