It’s hard to believe it has been more than a year since COVID-19 made its way to the United States, disrupting life, work and school as we knew it. You may not realize this, but COVID-19 has also affected many people’s teeth.
Around the world, dentists are reporting an increase in patients coming in with tooth damage, jaw issues and other oral health conditions related to the virus.
We know that sounds weird, but while SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory condition, there’s a lot of fallout related to the virus that affects other parts of the body as well.
How Does a Respiratory Virus Cause Tooth Damage?
So, how can a virus that impacts your lungs harm your teeth? The bottom line is stress related to the virus. For example, worry about health and catching the virus, stress over finances, working remotely, and trying to homeschool your children can add significant pressure and anxiety to your life.
More people are experiencing consistent worry and concern and report feeling high levels of stress and anxiety.
This means they’re turning to stress-coping mechanisms more readily, and those mechanisms are not always healthy. They include behaviors such as increased alcohol consumption, smoking, binging unhealthy foods and even recreational drug use. Yikes!
Another unhealthy, but very common, stress-coping mechanism affecting people right now is bruxism, or teeth grinding and clenching.
A Big Problem
Clenching and grinding your teeth, while a common reaction to stress, may not seem like a big deal, but it really is. This is because, over time, these behaviors can lead to irreversible damage to your tooth enamel, stress on your jaw joints and periodontal disease. Clenching and grinding can also lead to an increased risk for tooth loss.
These things can develop because the amount of pressure and force applied to the teeth during clenching and grinding is strong enough to crack and wear away your enamel, the hardest substance in your body. It is such a force that it can even cause your teeth to fracture.
How Common Is Bruxism?
Bruxism is really common; some dental researchers believe that one in three individuals grind their teeth, but in reality, the number is likely higher because most people don’t even realize they’re engaging in these behaviors while they’re asleep.
That’s right. The majority of clenching and grinding happens at night, during sleep. Some people clench and grind every single night, while others do it just occasionally. In very severe cases, it can happen more than 100 times a night.
Those affected by clenching and grinding are often children, teenagers and adults under the age of 40. About 8 percent of middle-aged individuals and 3 percent of seniors are reported to grind their teeth.
The Signs of Bruxism
Like we said above, most people don’t even know they’re clenching or grinding their teeth because it happens during sleep. But there are some telltale signs of the condition that can be clues that something is wrong. These signs include:
- Flattened or worn-down teeth
- Fractured, cracked or chipped teeth
- Sensitive teeth and mouth pain
- Loose teeth
- Tight jaw muscles, jaw stiffness and jaw pain
- Neck pain
- Facial pain
- Earaches, sharp pain in the ear and feeling as if your ear is “full”
- Headaches and migraines
- Biting the inside of the cheek or biting your tongue during sleep
- Your sleep partner tells you your clenching or grinding is loud and disturbing their sleep
- Damaged dental restorations, such as a bridges, porcelain crowns and dental implants
Over time, the consequences of clenching and grinding can lead to tooth loss for some individuals.
Not only can clenching and grinding damage your teeth, but the pressures and stress of COVID-19 can also affect your jaw and mouth because it can damage your temporomandibular joints, also known as the TMJs.
When these joints become damaged from the continued force of tooth grinding and clenching, it can be painful and even affect your quality of life by causing a condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD.
The signs of TMD include:
- Jaw pain when in use or at rest
- Jaw stiffness
- Snapping, popping or clicking noises when the jaw is in use (chewing, yawning, talking)
- Neck and facial pain
- Migraines and headaches
- Ear pain
- Back and shoulder pain and stiffness
- Unexplained tooth loss
Other Causes of Bruxism?
As we’ve mentioned, worry caused by COVID-19 can contribute to bruxism, but other things increase the risk of tooth clenching and grinding as well, including:
Stress. Not only COVID-19-related stress, but stress from work, life and other reasons can also contribute to bruxism.
Anxiety. Anxiety is also a contributor to developing the condition. If you’re anxious about something, you may find your bruxism symptoms increase. Also, in many cases, stress and anxiety go hand and hand.
Genetics. Like eye color, hair color and height, genetics can actually play a role in whether you clench or grind your teeth.
Sleep disorders. Sleep disorders such as the sleep breathing disorder obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been linked to increased chances of developing bruxism.
Behaviors. Caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol consumption, depression, smoking and recreational drug use can contribute to bruxism.
Unbalanced bite. If you have an unbalanced bite, your jaws will always want to find their correct position, which often means clenching your teeth.
Learn more about the dangers of bruxism, how it can cause dental issues and how COVID-19 can damage your teeth by calling us now.