5 Ways To Keep Pandemic-induced Stress From Damaging Your Teeth
Marvin Fier, D.D.S., Clinical Associate Professor of Dental Medicine
MEDICAL NEWS TODAY recently ran a featured article titled Jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding during the pandemic. They cited a study from Tel Aviv University in Israel that found during the first lockdowns in Israel and Poland there was a significant rise in TMD incidence (tempero-mandibular disorder; also known as TMJ) in the 1700 people in the study. No surprise! Grinding and/or clenching one’s teeth, which contribute to TMD, is a way of releasing tension, often unconsciously. With the level of anxiety and uncertainty about when the pandemic will end, who will get sick, lockdowns, economic concerns, etc., it’s no surprise that more people are suffering from TMD. Damaged teeth, tension headaches, and face or jaw pain can accompany TMD.
These devices are designed to keep teeth separated to avoid the damage caused from clenching and/or grinding when you’re sleeping or during the day when you’re not eating. The best type is a custom fitted one made by a dentist. My preference is a 2 layer (hard outer, slightly softer inner) guard. If you can’t or won’t go to a dentist, try a do-it-yourself guard that you can buy at a drugstore or order online. While not as ideal, it is another alternative.
2-What You Eat
Avoid hard foods. If you’re a fan of nuts, cashews are a better choice than almonds. Spare ribs? It’s much safer to eat boneless spare ribs as opposed to ribs still on the bone. If you enjoy chewing on ice chips, don’t! These changes can help you maintain your teeth post-pandemic as well. Avoid or cut back on caffeine, in colas, coffee, and chocolate which can stimulate your nervous system and jaw muscles.
3-When and How You Eat
Don’t wait till you’re famished to eat. If you do, you’re liable to stuff anything you can find into your mouth. You might normally eat quickly, so slow down. Chewing slower gives you a better chance of minimizing damage if there’s something hard in your food.
4-Stress or Anxiety Management
If you clench/grind because of stress, try learning strategies that promote relaxation like meditation. Online apps may be helpful. If the habit is related to anxiety, advice from a licensed therapist or counselor may help.
It is possible to change your behavior by practicing proper mouth and jaw position. By training the tip of your tongue to rest between your teeth, you may be able to train your jaw muscles to relax.
Don’t chew an anything that’s not food, e.g. pencils, pens, and of course, chewing gum.
You need a drink? Drinking alcohol appears to intensify grinding.[ii]
[ii] BertazzoSilveira,E, Kruger C, et al; Association between sleep bruxism and alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and drug abuse: A systematic review; JADA, 2016 Nov, V147, #11, p859-866 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002817716305414 Accessed 1/14/2021