COVID-19 has disrupted everyone's life, including our work situations, seeing our friends and family, and how our kids go to school. But did you know that COVID-19 is also affecting the oral health of many individuals?

Dentists worldwide report patients coming in with tooth damage, jaw pain and other oral health concerns related to the virus.

It sounds weird, right? After all, COVID-19, also known as SARS CoV 2, is a respiratory virus. So how can it damage the mouth?

COVID-19 and Tooth Damage

What it boils down to is stress. The uncertainties of COVID-19 and worry over health, finances and even homeschooling have caused significant increases in the stress loads of many. From worries over employment to general anxiety, most people are reporting feeling more stressed than ever before.

And that means more people are turning to coping mechanisms that are not always healthy, including things like increased alcohol consumption or smoking. Another stress coping mechanism affecting many people is teeth grinding and teeth clenching (also known as bruxism).

Bruxism: Kind of a Big Deal

Clenching and grinding your teeth is a common stress reaction, but it's a pretty big deal. Over time, bruxism can cause severe damage and significant problems for your teeth and jaw and contribute to periodontal (gum) disease development.

The potential for damage is high because the force applied to your teeth when you grind or clench can damage your tooth enamel. That's right - your tooth enamel (aka the hardest substance in the human body) can become chipped, cracked, worn away and fractured due to tooth grinding and clenching.

More About Bruxism

Bruxism is prevalent; some researchers believe one in three individuals are affected. The rate may be higher, as many people do not even realize they're clenching and grinding because these behaviors typically occur during sleep.

Some individuals experience sleep bruxism every night, others just occasionally. In severe cases, bruxism episodes can happen more than 100 times a night.

Sleep bruxism occurs most often in children, adolescents and adults under 40. Eight percent of middle-aged individuals and 3 percent of seniors grind their teeth.

The Symptoms of Bruxism

As we mentioned, many people don't realize they're grinding or clenching their teeth because they're doing it during sleep. However, there are signs of the condition that can help you connect the dots that something is happening, including:

  • Teeth that are flattened or worn down
  • Teeth that are fractured, cracked or chipped
  • Loose teeth
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Tight jaw muscles or jaw stiffness
  • Jaw pain
  • Neck or facial pain
  • Ear pain or feeling as if your ear is 'full'
  • Headaches, particularly around your temples
  • Biting your tongue or the inside of your cheek during sleep
  • Damage from biting the inside of your cheek
  • Biting your tongue during sleep
  • Complaints from your sleep partner that your clenching or grinding is noisy and is disturbing their sleep

The long-term consequences of clenching and grinding can mean severe and irreversible damage or even tooth loss.

Clenching and grinding can also damage dental restorations, including porcelain crowns, fillings and dental implants.

The stress of tooth grinding and clenching caused by the pressure of COVID-19 can also damage your temporomandibular joints, also known as the TMJs.

When these joints, which allow your jaw to open and close and move back and forth and side to side, become damaged, the result is a painful condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD/TMD).

The signs of TMJD include:

  • Difficult or painful chewing
  • Jaw stiffness
  • Jaw pain
  • Snapping, popping or clicking noises when using the jaw
  • Chronic facial and neck pain
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Ear pain
  • Back and shoulder pain

What Causes Bruxism?

As we've mentioned, COVID-19 is a factor in developing sleep bruxism, but other things increase the risk of clenching and grinding, too, such as:

Stress. Not just stress from COVID-19, but pressure from work, busy schedules and many other things can trigger bruxism. Anxiety is also a contributor to developing the condition.

Family history. Some studies have found that if you have a family member who clenches or grinds their teeth, you have a 50 percent greater chance of developing bruxism.

Sleep disorders. In some instances, teeth grinding and clenching have been connected to sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Behavioral factors. Other things can contribute to bruxism, including caffeine and alcohol consumption, depression, smoking, and recreational drug use.

Bite malocclusion. If you have an unbalanced bite, you may also suffer from bruxism as your jaw will continuously search for its correct position by clenching your teeth.

Do you see the signs of bruxism? Call us now to schedule an exam.