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The Viral Vault

A dentist and her assistant prepare to clean a patient's teeth in this photo illustration at a dentist's office on October 12, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.

During this year of pandemic stress, the American Dental Association says that dental health has taken a toll. An ADA survey found more than 70 percent of dentists have reported an increase of patients with teeth grinding and clenching problems; these are often associated with stress and result in chipped teeth.

Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute said, “The increase over time suggests stress-related conditions have become substantially more prevalent since the onset of COVID-19.”

According to the survey, a little more than 60 percent of dentists saw an increase in other stress-related dental conditions including chipped and cracked teeth and TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder) symptoms such as headaches and jaw pain.

Marcelo Araujo, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., ADA chief science officer said, “As the pandemic continues, dentists are seeing stress-related dental conditions more and more. It’s more important than ever for people to maintain their dental health, including seeing the dentist regularly to address any issues that could have long-term impact.”

Dr. Paul Levine of Levine Dental Associates in Milwaukee said most patients are unaware they have a problem until someone points it out, as USA Today reports.

Levine said, “If you’re sleeping, you may not notice that you’re grinding your teeth, but your spouse or partner may notice. It’s the same thing with clenching your teeth.”

An early warning sign that you may be clenching or grinding your teeth is jaw pain and feeling fatigued after waking up in the morning.

Clenching is forceful, silent pressure on the jaws and teeth between the top and lower rows, whereas grinding occurs when the lower jaw is tightened and moves sideways against the upper jaw, Levine said. Grinding teeth often leave distinct patterns of wear that can be seen only during a dental exam.

Mouthguards can help in grinding prevention but is costly, ranging from $150 to $700, though cheaper ones can be found at sporting goods stores or pharmacy stores like Walgreens for about $20. They will not have a professional fit but may do the job.

Repairing a chipped or cracked tooth can cost upwards of $3,000. A crown repair ranges from $1,000-1,5000, according to Levine.

Dr. Patrick Tepe, a former president of the Wisconsin Dental Association recommends getting a better night’s sleep may help saying, “I believe the better quality of sleep people can get results in lower stressors and thus less grinding of the teeth.” He suggests avoiding caffeine at night and investing in a comfortable pillow or mattress.

Tepe said one in three kids grind their teeth at night because they are under so much stress: “We forget that this has been hard for them as well,” he said. Online learning forces many of them to sit in front of a computer for hours without enough exercise and socialization.”

An additional tip from Tepe is to drink enough water to keep your mouth moist because “people are wearing masks and some people are mouth breathing.” It’s a key to healthy teeth and gums.