More than likely, COVID-19, also known as SARS CoV 2, has affected every aspect your life, including work, seeing friends and family, what times businesses or offices are open, and even how your kids go to school. But has it affected your oral health? Many dentists report they’ve seen an increase in patients with tooth damage and issues related to COVID-19.
You may be wondering exactly how COVID-19, a respiratory virus, can negatively impact oral health. Dentists around the United States are reporting increased instances of jaw pain, ear pain and tooth damage related to higher levels of stress, anxiety and fear that have developed due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 and Tooth Damage
As we said, there probably isn’t one facet of your life that hasn’t been changed in some way by the virus, and for many people, these changes have caused a lot of worries. From job loss to housing concerns and just general angst, more people are feeling greater stress levels.
People cope with stress differently, and COVID-19-related stress is no exception. Some coping methods are conscious efforts such as working out, finding a new hobby or even picking up a bad behavior, like increased alcohol consumption or smoking. Still, other responses to stress are not always apparent. One example is teeth grinding and teeth clenching (also known as bruxism).
Why Bruxism Is a Big Problem
Clenching and grinding your teeth is a common reaction to stress, anxiety or anger, which many people have felt during the COVID-19 pandemic. In most cases, even though you are aware that you are having these feelings, you don’t know you’re clenching or grinding your teeth because it happens more often than not while you’re asleep.
Over time, bruxism can cause significant damage — and serious problems — for your teeth and jaw, and lead to significant dental problems such as periodontal disease.
This is because the force applied when you’re grinding or clenching can wear down your tooth enamel. Yes, you read that correctly. Tooth enamel, the hardest substance in the body, can become worn away, chipped, cracked, and fractured due to tooth grinding and clenching.
How Common Is Sleep Bruxism?
Let’s take a moment to say that mouth movement is normal during sleep; as many as 60 percent of people make chewing motions known as rhythmic masticatory muscle activities while sleeping. But the movements related to sleep bruxism are different.
These actions often resemble chewing but have way more force behind them.
Clenching and grinding often happen in episodes, which can total more than 100 times a night in severe cases. Some people experience sleep bruxism every night, while others just occasionally.
Sleep bruxism occurs more frequently in children, adolescents and young adults under 40. Researchers estimate that 10 percent of people (up to 15 percent of children) grind or clench their teeth, but getting an accurate number of people with sleep bruxism is difficult because many individuals with the condition aren’t even aware they’re grinding or clenching.
Statistics about sleep bruxism in young children are the most difficult to determine, but some studies show that between 6 and 50 percent of children — including infants and toddlers — grind their teeth at night.
Around 15 percent of teens grind their teeth, and the condition becomes less common as people get older, with 8 percent of middle-aged individuals and 3 percent of seniors grinding their teeth.
What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Bruxism?
As we’ve mentioned above, many people don’t know that they’re grinding or clenching their teeth because it happens during sleep. In many cases, people are made aware of the issue when a family member or partner tells them about it. But there are other signs of the condition.
The signs of sleep bruxism include:
- Noises made during the night that are loud enough to wake up your sleep partner
- Teeth that are flattened, worn down, uneven, fractured, chipped or loose
- Increased tooth pain and sensitivity
- Tight jaw muscles, or a locked jaw that won’t open or close completely
- Jaw, neck or face pain
- Pain that feels like an earache or ear fullness
- Headaches, especially in the morning, generally in the area of the temples
- Damage from biting the inside of your cheek
- Biting your tongue during sleep
- Sleep disruption
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Sleep Bruxism?
Are you noticing these symptoms in yourself or your partner? If you are, we recommend that you call Miami Designer Smiles as soon as possible to schedule a consultation and exam. Here’s why: The long-term consequences of clenching and grinding your teeth during sleep bruxism can result in serious and irreversible damage or tooth loss. Many people also experience damage to dental restorations such as crowns, fillings and dental implants.
Another consequence of tooth grinding and clenching resulting from stress caused by COVID-19 is an increased risk of damaging your temporomandibular joints. These joints, also known as the TMJs, allow your jaw to open and close and move side to side and back and forth. When the TMJs become damaged, a situation known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD/TMD) develops, with symptoms such as difficult or painful chewing; jaw stiffness; chronic jaw pain; snapping, popping or clicking noises; and locking of the jaw.
Other signs of TMJ problems include:
- Chronic facial or head pain
- Unexplained ear pain
- Feelings of ear “fullness”
- Neck pain
- Back and shoulder pain
Sleep bruxism caused by COVID-19 or other stressors can impact more than the state of your oral health; it can also affect your bed partner, as the noise from clenching and grinding can keep them awake or wake them up during the night — which can make them tired and frustrated with you!
What Cause Bruxism During Sleep?
COVID-19 is just one of the many factors that contribute to the development of sleep bruxism, so it can be challenging to identify a single cause of the condition in most cases. While we recognize that many things can contribute to developing the habit, we know that some things increase the risk of sleep bruxism.
These factors include:
1. Stress. Stress is one of the most significant factors in why you clench or grind your teeth at night. That could include stress over COVID-19, stress from work, pressure from busy schedules, and tension in general. Clenching is a common reaction when you’re awake, and it carries over to when you’re asleep, too. Anxiety is also a contributor to sleep bruxism.
2. Genetics. Some research has shown that sleep bruxism has roots in your DNA; as many as 50 percent of the people living with nighttime tooth clenching or grinding have a close family member with the condition.
3. Sleep disorders. Bouts of teeth grinding are often connected to interruptions in sleep, known as microarousals. Some research studies have linked sleep bruxism to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep-breathing disorder caused by airway obstruction that triggers breathing to stop during sleep.
4. Behavioral factors. Numerous other factors and some habits have been connected to clenching and grinding the teeth, too. These habits include smoking, alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, depression and recreational drug use.
5. Bite malocclusion. If your bite is unbalanced, your body subconsciously tries to find its correct position by clenching your teeth. This muscle activity can cause serious stress on your teeth and jaw joints and contribute to temporomandibular disorders.
How Is Sleep Bruxism Treated?
While there is no single treatment that can totally eliminate your teeth grinding and clenching, some therapies can reduce how often you grind your teeth and reduce the potential for teeth damage and side effects that cause jaw problems, facial pain and oral health issues.
These treatments vary from patient to patient depending on individual needs and factors behind clenching and grinding. To determine your best course of treatment, we recommend that you schedule an appointment with us by calling Miami Designer Smiles today to set up a consultation.
Treatments for sleep bruxism include:
Stress Reduction. Stress is a psychological factor that can negatively affect every aspect of your life, including subconscious and sleep behaviors. Reducing your high levels of stress can help reduce the number of tooth-grinding and -clenching episodes you have when you’re asleep and awake. We recommend trying to reduce your stress levels through exercise, yoga, meditation, focused breathing or finding hobbies that help relax you.
Medications. Some individuals have found success in reducing their sleep bruxism episodes through medications. These drugs work by changing your brain’s chemicals to impair muscle activity that causes tooth grinding.
The popular endotoxin injectable Botox has also been used to reduce muscle movements that contribute to teeth grinding.
Mouthpieces. Mouthpieces, sometimes called mouth guards or night guards, can reduce the damage to your teeth that can occur because of sleep bruxism.
Dental splints that are sold over the counter can help stop tooth grinding but can damage your bite. We suggest that you choose a custom-fitted mouth guard to help protect your teeth, instead of those one-size-fits-all products from the local pharmacy or grocery.
So, You Have Sleep Bruxism. Now What?
If you have sleep bruxism and are experiencing tooth and facial pain, muscle tension in your jaw, or other side effects of the condition, there are four things you can do to reduce your discomfort:
1. Watch what you eat. We recommend avoiding very hard or tough foods and skipping chewing gum to help relieve painful movements.
2. Use a compress. We recommend that you use a hot compress to help relax your jaw muscles. Conversely, an ice pack may help reduce pain.
3. Facial exercises. Facial exercises and gentle stretching can help reduce jaw pain caused by clenching and tooth grinding. Ask us about specific exercises that may benefit you.
4. Miami Designer Smiles. We can help you reduce your sleep bruxism and protect your oral health for the long term. Call us now at 305-595-4616to schedule a consultation!