COVID-19 has had unfortunate consequences on the global economy as well as extensive disruptions to daily life. In fact, a common factor amongst patients coming into the practice recently is that they all cite increased stress levels associated with the sequelae of the coronavirus pandemic. Victoria’s state of emergency, restrictions and lockdowns, changes implemented to travel and work, social isolation, online school and university education, as well as the rapidly changing financial status of many Victorian households all may have impacting consequences on mental health – and subsequently, on dental health.
We have pinpointed two main oral health issues that have increased in the practice over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic in the hopes of helping raise awareness and healthy habits. These two issues are gum disease, and teeth grinding.
Gum disease is in many ways a silent disease, and many people often do not recognise the signs of gum disease or the importance of gum health. There is a documented and significant increase in the progression of gum disease and the rapid shrinkage of gum and bone as a result of delayed dental care.
It is also well established that gum disease has effects which extend beyond the mouth. A recent article has postulated that gum disease may even be a contributing factor for Covid-19 severity, and that stress related factors such as those caused by the Covid-19 pandemic may increase the risk of development and progression of gum disease. Anxiety and stress can often also coincide with poor diet, neglect of good habits such as oral care, and an increase of deleterious habits such as alcohol consumption or smoking. A significant number of patients have stated that the disruption to their usual routine and habits has meant that they are snacking more and cleaning less. All of these can cumulatively exacerbate poor oral health and gum disease.
Grinding and Clenching
If you are finding that you are grinding and clenching your jaw throughout the day or night, or that you wake up with sensitive teeth, a sore jaw, or a headache – you may be suffering from “bruxism” or “tempero-mandibular joint disorder (TMD).” Teeth grinding or clenching is technically referred to as bruxism. TMD is a disorder of the jaw joint resulting in soreness and pain in the joint, frequent headaches, and popping and clicking of the jaw. Sleep disruption, ear aches, bitten inner cheeks, wear of teeth, and broken or chipped teeth or fillings can all point to grinding habits. Multiple studies over many years have shown that there is a significant relationship between stress, anxiety, and the development and progression of both bruxism and TMD.
There has been a recent influx of patients experiencing bruxism and TMD in the practice. A number are presenting as acute pain TMD cases, and others are presenting with split or fractured teeth that require emergency extraction or root canal treatment. A common factor amongst these patients is that they all cite increased stress levels as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We want to ensure that our patients are aware of the connection between stress, teeth grinding and jaw pain so that they know the tools to combat these uncomfortable dental issues. One of these tools is a night-time splint that can be custom made for your teeth, by your dentist. This is designed to protect natural teeth from clenching and grinding habits, and to relieve muscle tension and painful joint symptoms.
Finally, one of the biggest consequences of Covid-19 for many households is financial difficulties through lost jobs, reduced hours, or pay cuts. If there are any concerns or hardships regarding finances, feel free to contact Smile Solutions about payment plan options. These are in place to ensure that there are no barriers to preserving and caring for a healthy, (and happy) smile.