COVID Effects on the Teeth

There’s no doubt that the last year has been stressful due to the spread of COVID-19. Life as we knew it changed, with work, school and even how we get groceries changing seemingly day to day, but the pandemic’s stress also impacted many people’s oral health.

Across the country and around the world, dentists are reporting that more and more patients are coming in with tooth damage, jaw problems and other oral health concerns as a result of SARS COVID 2.

But isn’t COVID-19 a respiratory condition? Yes, it is, but the disease’s effects are not limited to the lungs.

The COVID-19 Connection

The primary way this virus impacts your oral health is stress. Stress can make you do strange things to cope with how you feel about the world around you and the things you’ve got to now deal with due to the virus. This may include worrying about finances and your job security, working remotely, and trying to homeschool your children.

More people than ever before are reporting feeling very high levels of stress and anxiety. They’re turning to behaviors such as increased alcohol consumption, smoking, eating their feelings in unhealthy foods and even using drugs.

But another unhealthy and everyday stress-coping mechanism is grinding and clenching the teeth.

Is This Really a Problem? 

Medically known as bruxism, this behavior is serious. If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible damage to tooth enamel, put significant pressure on your jaw joints and even cause periodontal disease. Some people who are chronic clenchers also face an increased risk of tooth loss.

The sheer force of the tooth grinding and clenching is enough even to crack your tooth enamel (Fun Fact: Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body) and cause tooth fractures.

The incredible pressure on the jaw joints also has consequences. It can contribute to wear and tear on the temporomandibular joints and lead to a painful condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder.

It’s Pretty Common

Bruxism is prevalent, and some researchers believe that one in three people grind their teeth. But the fact of the matter is that this number is probably much higher because most people who clench and grind do not know they’re doing it. After all, it primarily happens when they’re asleep.

Some people clench and grind every single night and others just occasionally during periods of high stress. Some people with severe anxiety can have more than 100 clenching and grinding episodes per night.

In most cases, those who clench or grind their teeth are under 40, while 8 percent of middle-aged individuals and 3 percent of seniors experience bruxism.

Know the Signs 

As we said, most people don’t even know they’re doing it because it happens during sleep, but there are some clues you’ll experience in the day if bruxism is a problem for you. These signs include:

  • Worn-down teeth or teeth that appear flattened
  • Fractured teeth
  • Cracked or chipped teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Mouth pain
  • Loose teeth
  • Sore or tight jaw muscles, jaw stiffness and jaw pain
  • Neck pain
  • Facial pain
  • Earaches
  • Feeling as if your ear is “full”
  • “Tension” headaches and migraines
  • Biting the inside of the cheek and biting your tongue during sleep
  • Damage to dental restorations such as dental implants, porcelain crowns and bridges
  • Tooth loss

TMD and Bruxism

Clenching and grinding not only cause damage to your teeth, but also put a lot of pressure and stress on the jaw and jaw joints.

When the jaw joints become damaged by the forces of tooth grinding and tooth clenching, the result is frequently pain, loss of use of the jaw and even a diminished quality of life as TMD develops. The signs of TMD include:

  • Jaw pain
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Snapping, popping or clicking noises when the jaw is in use
  • Neck pain
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Ear pain
  • Unexplained tooth loss
  • The jaw feeling as if it is going to “lock” open or closed

Additional Causes of Bruxism

Beyond COVID-19, there are other causes of bruxism, including:

Stress. Stress from all kinds of things can increase the risk of clenching and grinding your teeth.

Anxiety. Like stress, anxiety is a significant factor in clenching and grinding. In many cases, stress and anxiety occur simultaneously.

Family history. Genetics plays a major role in whether you clench and grind your teeth, just like they do in determining your eye color, hair color and height.

Sleep disorders. Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea have been linked to tooth clenching and grinding.

Behaviors. High consumption of caffeine, alcohol and energy drinks, as well as smoking and recreational drug use, may also contribute to bruxism.

Bite problems. If your bite is unbalanced, you will clench and grind your teeth as your body subconsciously works to find your bite’s proper position.

Learn more about clenching and grinding your teeth and how COVID-19 can affect your dental health by calling to schedule a consultation.