TORONTO — Dentists have seen a surge in patients with cracked or damaged teeth over the course of the pandemic, a phenomenon some believe may be related to an increase in jaw clenching and grinding due to stress.
Toronto-area dentist Dr. Kal Khaled closed his practice to all but emergency patients at the beginning of the lockdown and soon noticed an uptick in emergency patients coming in with cracked molars and damaged fillings leading to abscesses.
To his surprise, his colleagues reported a similar trend, one he believes is a compounding issue of stress, poor diet, and a lack of oral care.
“Enamel is a rock-like substance and it’s super strong—it shouldn’t break. But what we’re finding is that because of the quarantine period, a lot of people have been hesitant to go to the dentist,” Khaled, president of the Ontario Alliance of Dentists, told CTVNews.ca Tuesday.
“[Tooth] decay is accelerated by stress, and poor life conditions, such as not sleeping or eating well. Needless to say, teeth have taken a beating over the last few months.”
Though the Canadian Dental Association says the relationship between grinding your teeth and stress isn’t clear, there have been reports of an increase in COVID-19-induced nightmares and pandemic-related anxiety causing clenching and grinding.
Social media is filled with reports of people suffering headaches, toothaches and jaw soreness after grinding their teeth, which many say they only started doing in recent months.
Those reports skyrocketed Tuesday after the New York Times published an article written by New York City-based dentist Tammy Chen, claiming she was treating up to six tooth fractures a day.
While Chen also cites stress as a possible cause for teeth grinding, she notes that poor posture while working from home may also play a role.
“The awkward body positions that ensue can cause us to hunch our shoulders forward, curving the spine into something resembling a C-shape,” she wrote in the article.
“If you’re wondering why a dentist cares about ergonomics, the simple truth is that nerves in your neck and shoulder muscles lead into the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull. Poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.”
Aaron Burry, associate director of professional affairs at the Canadian Dental Association, says that although there is no solid evidence to support claims that more Canadians are grinding their teeth, dental care has been harder to come by during the pandemic.
“One of the things that may be possible here is that people have been putting off dental care and, with all of the restrictions, it could be harder for some people to get an appointment,” Burry told CTVNews.ca Tuesday.
Both Burry and Khaled note that it’s important for Canadians to get back to their usual dental care schedule, if possible, to find and treat any decay before issues arise.
“Patients really should not be nervous to go to the dentist. We probably have the highest standards of sterilization and cleanliness of any business, office, or clinic,” said Khaled.
Along with regular brushing and flossing, Khaled recommends limiting refined sugar intake and snacking on more natural alternatives, such as fruit or vegetables, to maintain good oral health and reduce decay.