One thing we’ve noticed providing dental care to patients at our office in Tucson: You’re stressed. Like really stressed.
That’s perfectly understandable. With the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention the political climate and economic stress, we’re all dealing with anxiety — every single one of us. These are unprecedented times. It’s natural if the world feels like it’s caving in. In many ways, it is.
And that stress is having a significant impact on your dental health and your teeth. As dentists, we’re seeing more cracked teeth, broken fillings, and dental emergencies than ever before.
And it’s not just at our office in Tucson. Dentists everywhere are reporting they are treating more cracked fillings and teeth, jaw or tooth pain, achiness in the teeth.
Tammy Chen, a dentist, wrote about the uptick in patients and dental emergencies in the New York Times. She writes:
“I closed my midtown Manhattan practice to all but dental emergencies in mid-March, in line with American Dental Association guidelines and state government mandates. Almost immediately, I noticed an uptick in phone calls: jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, achiness in the cheeks, migraines. Most of these patients I effectively treated via telemedicine.
“But when I reopened my practice in early June, the fractures started coming in: at least one a day, every single day that I’ve been in the office. On average, I’m seeing three to four; the bad days are six-plus fractures.”
She blames the obvious culprit of stress. “From Covid-induced nightmares to ‘doomsurfing’ to ‘coronaphobia,’ it’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is affecting our collective mental health,” she writes. “That stress, in turn, leads to clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.”
She also suggests two other possibilities: Posture and sleep.
As far as posture, she points out:
“An unprecedented number of Americans are suddenly working from home, often wherever they can cobble together a makeshift workstation: on the sofa, perched on a barstool, tucked into a corner of the kitchen counter. The awkward body positions that ensue can cause us to hunch our shoulders forward, curving the spine into something resembling a C-shape.
“If you’re wondering why a dentist cares about ergonomics, the simple truth is that poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.”
In terms of sleep, most of us aren’t getting the restorative sleep we need. We’re riddled with insomnia and nighttime restlessness. This in turns makes us grind our teeth and clench our jaws, which can lead to broken fillings, cracked teeth, tooth crown pain, and other dental problems.
What can you do? First of all, relax. I know — easier said than done. But you might try practicing some light meditation or mindfulness. Sit quietly and let your thoughts float away and evaporate. You don’t need to chant or speak on tongues. Simply recognize the moment over a cup of coffee and appreciate things as they are, with no need to change or worry about anything.
You might also try relaxing activities. Read a book and unwind. Take a walk and be with your thoughts. Contemplate a sunset and don’t worry about the time.
And don’t forget to reach out to friends. The social distancing required by this pandemic has required many of us to live like hermits. But just because we are socially distanced doesn’t mean we need to be socially isolated. Call your friends and family. Schedule a Zoom happy hour. Check in with each other. Even simple conversations can break the isolation and help us feel less lonely.
By being more relaxed and socially connected, you’ll experience less stress — which means less grinding and jaw clenching that can be so hard on your teeth.
As we take care of our minds and our loneliness, we also need to care for our teeth. When we’re depressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to neglect our oral health. We go to bed forgetting to brush our teeth. We also tend to eat our feelings — especially in the candy and sweets department.
Continue to be vigilant about caring for your teeth. Do everything your dentist tells you — brush twice a day for two minutes each, floss, rinse with a fluoride rinse. And keep up on your diet. Minimize sugar and sweets. If you find yourself snacking, stick to fruit and vegetables as much as possible. Fruit has natural sugar that can feed a sugar craving in ways that doesn’t damage your teeth.
And don’t forget to come in and see us at our Tucson office. We’re open, and we can safely see patients. We’ll have you wait in the parking lot until we’re ready to see you. And we’ll ask you to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. But your dental care is still important to us. We want you to have a beautiful smile.