Covid Stress Is Ruining Teeth: Here’s What to Do About It
These days, it’s nearly impossible to find an area of our lives that hasn’t been affected by Covid-19. Here’s one more to add to the (very long) list: oral health.
At Tend, we’re seeing first hand the harmful effects of Covid-related stress on our patients’ teeth. The numbers are grim: these days, our dentists are treating three times as many patients for stress-related oral health issues than they were pre-pandemic.
Stress grinding your teeth is very much a thing
One major way we manifest stress is by grinding our teeth, a condition known as bruxism. And while a bit of teeth grinding might not seem like a big deal, it’s actually a major one. Left unchecked, bruxism can destroy enamel—the hard, pearly stuff on the outside of your teeth—and wear teeth down to stumps, or cause emergency issues like broken, fractured, or chipped teeth. “It’s absolutely not something to ignore,” says Dr. Chris Salierno, Tend’s Chief Dental Officer.
More stress (thanks, Covid) = more teeth grinding
While some cases of bruxism are caused by genetics—“Some people grind because that’s the way they’re hardwired,” says Dr. Marc Schlenoff, Tend’s Head of Clinical Development—many grinders do so in response to stress. These days, we’re all under more stress than ever, so it’s not surprising that in a recent survey of dentists by the ADA, more than 70% of respondents reported seeing an increase in patients experiencing teeth grinding.
At Tend studios, the numbers are equally staggering. Our dentists are treating three times as many patients for bruxism as before the pandemic. Perhaps most concerningly, Tend’s dentists are seeing a 281% year over year increase in emergency visits, and a 254% year over year increase in repairs for broken or cracked teeth from causes like grinding.
Grinding produces a huge amount of force
Broken teeth just due to grinding? Yup. “Grinding can generate up to 1,100 pounds per square inch of pressure on your teeth,” says Dr. Schlenoff. To put that in perspective, that’s 3-6 times the pressure you use to eat.
Teeth Grinding wears away at enamel, then at dentin
Now for some dental anatomy: a tooth has layers that grinding destroys bit by bit. The first layer is the enamel, which coats the outside of the tooth and is “the hardest substance in the body,” according to Dr. Schlenoff. Once you grind through this, you’re in trouble. Underneath the enamel is “dentin,” a yellowish substance that’s 11 times weaker than enamel. As a result, it will erode 11 times more quickly.
Grinding affects multiple teeth at a time
Grinding doesn’t just happen to one tooth: it occurs in a sliding motion that wears down many of your teeth simultaneously in a fairly symmetrical way. So when you’re grinding, you’re not just harming a single tooth—whole sections of your mouth are at risk.
There’s a point of no return when it comes to tooth damage
Because the tooth gets softer the deeper you go, over time the damage grinding causes begins to accelerate. At a certain point, the damage is beyond repair and your teeth will require crowns. Dr. Schlenoff recalls, “I’ve had cases where I had to do crowns on every tooth in the mouth to rebuild them to their original height because people have worn them down so dramatically.”
Repairing teeth grinding damage can be incredibly expensive
A single crown can cost up to $2500, depending on where you live. If your case is really extreme and you need crowns on every single tooth like Dr. Schlenoff's patient, that could result in a whopping cost of $80,000.
Prevention > Repair
If you’re a grinder, it’s critical to stop before that $80,000 worth of damage occurs. “Preventing damage is always easier than repairing it,” says Dr. Salierno. “Even if you already have some signs of wear, the sooner you can curb your grinding, the better.”
Mindfulness for the win
The problem is, grinding is a sneaky vice: most people are unaware when they’re actively doing it. So how can you stop something when you don’t even notice it happening?
One simple solution is mindfulness. Make a point to check in with yourself throughout the day, especially at moments you feel particularly stressed. If you realize that you’re grinding your teeth, drop your jaw and let it hang for a few moments before resetting to a looser, more relaxed position.
Cut the chewing
Ice, gum, pen caps… for many of us, chewing these is as normal and natural as breathing. But if you’re a grinder, these repetitive motions can keep your jaw clenched. A clenched jaw leads to—you guessed it—more grinding. Try cutting out all chewing besides food to ensure your mouth stays relaxed throughout the day.
Less stress = less grinding
If you’re grinding because you’re stressed, there are some stress-reducing techniques that could help (seriously!). If you’re not already exercising, start there. Adding a few sweat sessions to your weekly routine can reduce stress overall, and you might just find that it causes the grinding to ease up.
More of a spa person? (Us too.) Opt for a hot bath at the end of the day. For extra credit, try massaging your jaw while in the tub. Because so much grinding happens at night, the more tension you can release before bed, the better. Warm compresses or heating pads applied to your jaw can also help.
Mouth guards are the gold standard
If you’re still struggling with teeth grinding, it’s OK. (Remember, some of us are just genetically predisposed to it!) There’s a simple intervention that could make a world of a difference. “One of the most effective ways to combat nighttime bruxism is a night guard,” says Dr. Salierno. “It may look like a simple piece of plastic, but it's actually a sophisticated appliance custom-molded to your mouth and designed to be worn while you sleep.”
Since the pandemic began, Tend dentists have seen a 341% year over year increase in demand for night guards, and for good reason. A night guard typically costs less than a thousand dollars. We charge $599 if you don't have dental insurance, and if you do, it could cost significantly less than that. Compared to the cost of even a single crown, it’s a far more economical solution.
Take that, pandemic
For the past two years, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our day-to-day lives, so it’s not surprising to find that it’s hitting our stress levels and our oral health hard, too. Still, if stress grinding is your problem, a few tweaks could make a huge difference. And while not everything we’re struggling through can be solved by night guards and hot baths, we’ll take our wins where we can get them. (Because, let’s face it, these days you’ve got other things to worry about.)
Think you’re grinding?
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