The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences on people’s lives all over the world. Schools and businesses have closed, leaving young families cooped up at home where they’re inundated with a steady stream of apocalyptic news. Many workers have lost their jobs or been asked to work from home under trying conditions. Grocery store shelves have run bare, making it difficult to find essentials. Healthcare professionals have become the frontline workers in this fight against a new, unfamiliar virus. And just about everyone has worried about what would happen if their friends and family became ill with the disease.
No matter how you have been personally affected during the pandemic, you are likely facing increased stress and anxiety. Stress can affect your health in many ways, including increasing the amount you clench your jaw during the day and grind your teeth at night.
Jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding, also known as bruxism, are both categorized as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). These unconscious behaviors can lead to numerous problems, all of which have occurred in increased numbers among dental patients since the start of the pandemic.
Tel Aviv University Study
A formal study from Tel Aviv University found a 15 to 34 percent increase in TMD symptoms among Israel and Poland residents during the initial COVID-19 lockdown last spring. People who already struggled with TMD before the pandemic saw a rise in symptoms once the lockdown began. Researchers confirmed the link between people reporting greater levels of stress and experiencing higher rates of jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding, and facial pain.
The study found that the people most likely to experience TMD symptoms from increased stress were those in the “middle generation” with young children at home and elderly parents to worry about. Pandemic stress also seemed to more significantly affect women, who exhibited worse TMD symptoms than their male counterparts. In all, the most profoundly affected group was women aged 35 to 55.
The study leaves little doubt—stress and anxiety brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have increased the prevalence of TMD symptoms. These results aren’t surprising, considering that the uncertainty and worries of living through a pandemic are sure to increase stress and anxiety, and jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding are well-known manifestations of emotional duress.
TMD symptoms aren’t just increasing in Israel and Poland. Dentists across the United States say they have noticed a surge in bruxism cases among their patients since the pandemic began. Of course, it didn’t help that dentist offices around the country were required to close for an extended time in the spring, forcing all but emergency patients to wait weeks for dental care. Fortunately, the period of mandatory closures is over, and patients can now visit the dentist with confidence.
Symptoms of Jaw-Clenching and Teeth-Grinding
The most common problems that people with TMD and bruxism complain about include:
- Worn enamel: The outermost layer of the tooth, known as enamel, serves to protect the underlying tooth structure beneath it. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body, but months of grinding your teeth for hours every night can wear enamel down.
- Tooth fractures or tooth loss: Worn enamel can damage teeth, changing their shape, affecting your bite, and even causing teeth to break. In serious cases, tooth loss can also occur.
- Facial pain and temporal headaches: Excessively exercised jaw muscles may cause facial pain or temporal headaches, which are felt as pain in the temples on the sides of the head.
- Jaw pain: Jaw muscles overworked from clenching may hurt while talking, chewing, or yawning. It’s also common to wake up with jaw pain after a night of grinding your teeth.
- Jaw joint issues: In addition to causing pain, clenching and grinding may restrict the jaw joint’s range of motion, limiting the ability to fully open and close your mouth.
If you are experiencing facial pain, jaw pain, or other stress-related problems during this pandemic, please contact West County Dental for help. Our St. Louis dentist takes the necessary precautions to keep our team and patients safe while reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Let us address your dental concerns today—call (314) 488-2921 or contact us online to schedule your next visit.
By now, everyone knows the basic precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus—wear a mask, stand at least six feet apart from others, and avoid touching your face. So it’s logical to wonder—is it safe to visit the dentist during COVID-19? After all, this is a setting where you sit face-to-face with a medical practitioner, maskless and open-mouthed for an extended period of time.
Despite these seemingly egregious concerns, you can rest assured that visiting the dentist is safe, even during a pandemic. Here’s why.
Dentists already practiced excellent infection control.
Even before the pandemic brought about new sanitation rules, dentist offices led the way in infection control measures. Dental professionals were already accustomed to wearing masks and gloves while treating patients, a practice that began in earnest during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. It was also the norm to disinfect or dispose of tools regularly before the age of the coronavirus—dentists are now simply doubling their efforts to ensure team and patient safety.
Dentists have enacted numerous pandemic precautions.
A slew of changes should be obvious as soon as you walk through the door. Here’s what to look for:
- Socially distanced reception rooms
- Clear plastic partitions at the reception desk
- Open office doors to avoid touching doorknobs
- Lots of hand sanitizer
In addition to changing the office setup, many dentists have adopted additional safeguards. Common practices during a pandemic include:
- Staggering check-in times
- Allowing patients to wait in their cars until their appointment
- Taking temperature checks
- Requiring patients and team members to wear face coverings or other personal protective equipment at all times while in the building
Dentist offices have been working in pandemic conditions for months.
Under the direction of the American Dental Association (ADA), dentist offices around the country closed for weeks when the coronavirus first appeared in the United States. Information about COVID-19 was scarce at the time, and the immediate goal was to limit possible viral spread by restricting all non-emergency procedures.
Starting in May, practices began reopening, following guidelines from the ADA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about how to do safely. Today, patients can confidently visit their local dentist for preventative care, cosmetic restoration, and emergency procedures.
Delaying dental care is a major health concern.
Avoiding the dentist because you fear contracting the coronavirus could put your oral health in jeopardy. Consider this—the risk of developing cavities or gum disease if you don’t visit the dentist is much higher than the chance of being exposed to COVID-19 at a dental office. Non-severe conditions—such as a cracked filling, loose crown, or toothache—can also worsen dramatically if not treated promptly. If you experience a problem like this, don’t delay dental treatment for any reason.
At West County Dental, patient comfort and safety have always been important to us. This is true now more than ever. That’s why we maintain strict sterilization processes to avoid cross-contamination. We also follow the standards set by the ADA, CDC, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for maximum safety. If you have any questions about the coronavirus safety measures we’re taking, or you want to reserve an appointment, please call us at (314) 488-2921 or contact us online today.
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