February 2021

Pandemic Stress Has Taken a Toll on Teeth


Clenched teeth have long served as a telltale sign of stress. And as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to weigh on Americans, dentists are noticing a concerning trend.

The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute polled more than 13,000 dentists from March to September 2020. About 60% said that, compared with pre-pandemic, they’d seen more patients who grind their teeth. Chipped and cracked teeth were also on the rise.

Behind the grind

Doctors and dentists can’t always tell why some people grind their teeth and others don’t. But they do know emotions such as stress and anxiety play a role. The alignment of your teeth and your family history may matter, too.

Bruxism—the medical term for teeth grinding—sometimes causes no symptoms. In other cases, you may develop:

  • Chipped, cracked, loose, or painful teeth

  • Worn-down enamel, the substance covering teeth

  • Headaches or earaches

  • Jaw or facial pain

Bruxism often occurs when you’re asleep. You may not even realize you’re doing it. However, some people also clench or grind during the day.

Don’t delay dental care

With so many other pandemic-related concerns, your oral health may have fallen by the wayside. But addressing grinding now can prevent more serious problems later.

Besides damaged teeth, these include a jaw condition called temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Signs of TMJ include jaw pain, stiffness, and clicking. Dentists in the survey reported an uptick in these symptoms, too.

You know the drill: If you have tooth pain or discomfort, make an appointment with your dentist right away. Treatment for bruxism often starts with a mouth guard worn at night to reduce grinding or prevent damage. Your dentist can recommend the best type.

You might also try:

  • Staying aware. During the day, check in and notice if your teeth clench or grind. Think about releasing tension in your facial muscles.

  • Winding down. Yoga, gentle music, and hot baths can ease stress, especially right before bed.

  • Tending to your jaw. Cut back on gum and hard or chewy foods. Apply heat or ice to the sore joint. Or gently massage the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and face.




Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2020
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