Dentists are facing an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic as more people visit their clinics with cracked teeth.
Since reopening her clinic in June, Dr. Sura Hadad said about 50 patients have come to get treated for teeth fractures or jaw pain.
There are several causes for these issues, but increased stress is one of the most prevalent reasons post-COVID-19. Elevated stress levels may lead people to grind their teeth unconsciously when they’re awake or during sleep.
“Some people (clench or grind their teeth) when they’re driving, exercising, or when they’re watching TV or working on the computer,” said Hadad.
For Dr. Jainin Wolfe, a dentist in Oxford, grinding was a problem many patients faced while her clinic was shut down. Wolfe said she also faced the problem herself.
“I was answering a lot of phone calls and I would say symptoms associated with clenching and grinding were about a third of my emergencies,” she said.
Clenching your teeth can also come from bad posture such as sitting while bringing your shoulders upwards, said Wolfe. Some people also grind their teeth while doing manual labour that requires strength including hammering nails, opening cans, or using scissors.
Dr. Chad Avery, president of the Nova Scotia Dental Association and a dentist at a private practice in Yarmouth, said fractured teeth are a very common problem his patients have.
“That’s always been the case,” he said.
Still he’s seeing possibly a few more patients with fractured teeth than usual.
While the uptick in patients could mean people are breaking their teeth more often, Avery said there might be other factors at play.
“There’s also a huge backlog of people for three months that have broken teeth and that were not emergencies, so we weren’t able to help,” he said.
Wolfe had to cancel over 500 appointments when she closed her practice a few months ago.
“Getting caught up is hard to do,” she said. “I’d say to anyone having a problem to call their dentist but be patient. They’re all going to get seen. It just takes time.”
As people lost access to non-emergency dental care when dentists were closed, Avery said that they may have realized how important it is to get dental problems looked at promptly. People who would usually wait till their next checkup to get a chip fixed, are now calling his office immediately. He said it could be because they’re anxious that dental offices might close again at some point due to COVID-19.
Some of Wolfe’s patients are also getting most of their dental problems looked after now in case of another shutdown. She is also changing her approach by immediately addressing issues that she would normally decide to keep an eye on.
Other causes for fractured teeth include eating hard or chewy food and not taking care of your oral hygiene. For example, people might not be brushing their teeth after every meal because they’re mostly at home constantly snacking.
“Why would I brush my teeth if I’m going to eat again? That kind of thinking,” said Hadad.
The biggest advice both Hadad and Avery have for preventing cracked teeth is to brush and floss properly.
“People are probably washing their hands more than they’re brushing or flossing their teeth,” said Hadad.
Neglecting oral hygiene could lead to cavities that can’t be detected without an X-ray. Those cavities would weaken a tooth making it more susceptible to breaks.
That’s one of the reasons why it’s essential to visit the dentist.
“The number one thing is regular dental care so that your dental professional can catch the (grinding) problem early on,” said Avery.
There are also symptoms people could look out for such as headaches especially in the temple area, jaw pain, an unexplained stiff neck or discomfort in the muscles that control the jaw through the cheek.
“A good way to test yourself is to put your hand on the side of your head and clench your teeth. You can feel those muscles bulge,” said Wolfe. “If that’s where your headaches come, then you’re probably clenching your teeth.”
Wolfe recommends people get enough physical activity during the day to reduce clenching.
“I found yoga class really helpful because they’re always reminding you to take a deep breath, unclench your teeth, and put your shoulders down away from your ears,” she said.
Being mindful of your posture and what your jaw is doing at all times is important. Hadad said massage therapy or acupuncture may relax the muscles around the jaw and reduce grinding.
“If you are clenching and grinding, get a night guard to protect your teeth,” she said.
People can wear it before going to sleep or while doing activities where they clench their teeth. Wolfe said night guards are covered under most dental insurances.
At first, it might not be easy for some people to get used to wearing the night guard. It took two months for Hadad to get used to the one she has. Wearing it a couple of hours before bed might help.
“Don’t get discouraged if you find it on the side of the bed or outside your mouth. Keep at it!”
Nebal Snan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald