The weird side effect of COVID-19 that we are seeing all the time now

The first patient of the day walks in. They have chipped and worn teeth at the front.

As Chris is chatting to them, he notices that not only do they have chipped teeth but also have an angular jaw. He then asks the patient, do you have a missing tooth at the back, jaw or neck pain or gnawed cheeks.

Yeah, how did you know that?!

Feeling the muscles in the upper back he manages to diagnose the issue without a look in the mouth.  After a thorough look in their mouth we can see that his suspicions are correct.

Stress is on the increase

Lives have changed in recent months – stress levels have increased, new work boundaries.  Now dentists are starting to see a spike in cracked or damaged teeth likely the cause of an increase in jaw clenching and grinding due to stress during the ongoing pandemic. When you clench and grind your teeth, you put stress on them and that can lead to damage.

The Diagnosis

Chris looks at any missing or rotated teeth in the back of your mouth. He also takes time to check your jaw joint, jaw muscles and biting height. So many people have worn teeth which causes stresses on the jaw joint and chipping and wear in the front teeth. His main goal is to diagnose the causes of the chipping, then through different techniques can help restore the correct bite position. This can sometimes be as easy as making a small night time guard to wear. Every week, we are seeing a number of people with these issues and through simple assessment and listening to you and taking time to look at the problems have helped many people sort it out. Indeed it is very common for people to mention that their jaw feels more normal and comfortable, with most saying that ear, neck or jaw symptoms have eased within a matter of days.

Why are we seeing more grinding?

  • One cause is the shift to remote working —which has caused us to find comfort in an unusual workstation.

We are suddenly working from home, often wherever you can cobble together a makeshift workstation: on the sofa, perched on a barstool, tucked into a corner of the kitchen counter. The awkward body positions that ensue can cause us to hunch our shoulders forward, the spine into something resembling a C-shape.

The nerves in your neck and shoulder muscles lead into the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull. Poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.

  • The second cause is likely to be sleep issues.

We aren’t getting enough restorative sleep and that’s what we need in order to relieve tension that isn’t leaving in the right places.

Restlessness and insomnia are hallmarks of an overactive or dominant sympathetic nervous system, which drives the body’s “fight or flight” response. Think of a gladiator preparing for battle: balling his fists, clenching his jaw. Because of the stress of coronavirus, the body stays in a battle-ready state of arousal, instead of resting and recharging. All that tension goes straight to the teeth.

The solutions

  1. Being aware that your teeth are touching is a start to remedy the issue, while being mindful that you might be grinding can help you catch it before it becomes a bigger problem. Devices such as a night guard or retainer can promote better practices and prevent grinding.
  2. Figure out a better at-home setup with your computer screen at eye level can help fix your posture
  3. Self-care and relaxation exercises. Meditation and warm baths before bed, to avoiding the news and relaxing with a book instead. A good night’s sleep is really important as is making the time to exercise.
  4. Cold and warm compresses can help soothe the jaw, as can massaging the muscle and taking ibuprofen.
  5. For extreme cases, there are more extreme solutions including a steroid injection inside the jaw joint or a shot of Botox to relax the jaw muscles, which can become so big that they change the shape of a patient’s face. But injecting a neurotoxin is not the go-to answer.

If you’re noticing grinding (bruxism) as a problem, consider discussing it with Chris at Dental Logic before it cause further issues.