Why are we experiencing so much tooth trauma during the pandemic?

tooth trauma coronavirus pandemic
Photo via ben dalton/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)
  • Dentists have seen a rise in tooth trauma since March
  • Stress, poor sleep, and bad posture are all contributors
  • There are several ways to avoid a mid-pandemic trip to the dentist

There’s been a startling rise in tooth trauma during the pandemic. Dr. Maggie Chen, a doctor of dental surgery, wrote in the New York Times on Sept. 8 that she’s seen “more tooth fractures in the last six weeks than in the previous six years.” 

Evidence shows stress as a big culprit in our newfound dental issues, and Chen pointed to coronavirus-related anxiety as a big source of tooth trauma. Stress leads to an uptick in teeth grinding and jaw clenching, which can cause damage. Chen noted several other relevant factors as well, including our posture while working from home and poor sleep. Hunching, which becomes more common in home work environments, where people can complete a shift from the comfort of their couch or favorite armchair, can lead to increased grinding at night. 

Anxiety also affects how well we sleep, and it causes more tension to collect in the body. According to Chen, that tension “goes straight to the teeth.” Factors like “jaw pain, migraines, and tooth sensitivity” are all indicators of potentially larger dental issues. 

Chen recommended a few avenues to keeping our teeth in better condition as the pandemic rages on around us. For people working from home, try to find a designated work area with reasonable ergonomics. Keep your back straight while you work and try to be aware of your teeth. If they’re touching and you’re not currently consuming food, you are doing damage. Chen also recommended using a retainer or mouth guard at night, and potentially during the day as well. This will assist in keeping your teeth from touching and reduce issues with tooth and jaw pain. 

Before bed, Chen recommends a quick stretch to “decompress and elongate the spine, as well as release and relieve some of that tension and pressure.” This should help with sleep and ultimately reduce the risk of grinding and clenching in the night. 

With the pandemic still in full swing, many dentist offices are closed to all but emergency procedures. That means that cleanings and other routine services are not being performed, and that also adds to the risk of issues. As noted by the CDC, dental care is inherently dangerous with COVID-19—a respiratory illness spread by droplets from our noses and mouths. The CDC recommends that dentists only open their doors for serious or emergency dental procedures, and when they do perform in-person services to follow several cautionary measures. It recommends eye protection in addition to face masks, as well as “an N95 respirator or a respirator that offers an equivalent or higher level of protection during aerosol-generating procedures.”

There are a number of fixes—both temporary and permanent—for fractured teeth, even during the pandemic. Stunning Smiles, a dental practice in California, lists composite bonding, dental crowns, extractions, and root canals as options, depending on the severity of the tooth trauma. 

Sources: CDC, Fox News, Stunning Smiles, New York Times

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