It all started on March 16: following WHO guidelines and the ban imposed by the state of alarm, I was forced to close the clinic until May 11, although I was able to continue the consultation online via Zoom and WhatsApp.
It was then that I was struck by the number of patients whose “anxiety” and “fear of uncertainty” began to show in their teeth. Many reported having cracked or chipped teeth, others complained of pain from a broken tooth…but the common denominator for all of them was that they reflected more tension and stress than usual, which was clearly caused by the totally unusual situation we were living through.
The Covid-19 pandemic that had led us to confinement, to teleworking from home, to a forced change of habits, with great economic uncertainty, was beginning to have a direct effect on teeth.
Why can stress affect our teeth?
Seventy-five percent of us unconsciously clench our teeth during the day and/or at night. Whenever we are worried, without realizing it, we unload tension on our molars that are in contact with each other when our mouth is closed. This can happen while we are working or engaged in any other activity that involves concentration and attention. This unconscious habit is aggravated if, in addition, we are taken out of our comfort zone and have to adapt overnight to new situations such as those we experience after confinement: we set up our home office with postures that alter our ergonomics and our physical and psychological health.
Every time we worry about something…we can be at the same time “pressing” our teeth together as if we were unloading our tension on them and stress…..This in the long term physiologically causes our molars to wear down, our teeth become chipped and appear as if they have cracked enamel until they eventually break. In addition, there are people who manifest other symptoms ranging from the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that connects the jaw to the skull, pain in the facial muscles especially in the masseter muscle, noises near the ear (clicks) even is very common to have overloaded the cervical at the level of C6 and C7. All this is caused by the tension/pressure we make with our teeth when we bring them together (outside the normal habits of chewing and swallowing) and the bad postures we adopt when we work in front of the computer, in the improvised “home-office”.
How do we know if we grind or clench?
As I mentioned above, it is enough to be grinding our teeth together without the need to clench them tightly.
It is an unconscious habit that occurs during the day and/or at night.
What are the symptoms and what should I do?
If you begin to notice that your molars are more worn down, that is, they become flatter surfaces, your fillings are more deteriorated, your teeth are more transparent or cracked, or you frequently suffer from neck tension, I recommend that you visit your dentist.
In addition, these symptoms are often accompanied by sleepless nights and morning migraines.
What is the solution?
The first thing to do is to rebuild the worn or altered teeth and reinforce them. There is no point in putting in a mouth guard if the damaged tooth surfaces are not rebuilt.
Once the teeth are already reinforced and reconstructed, it is then advisable to use a specific mouthguard to reduce the unconscious habit and prevent further long-term wear of the teeth and loss of DVO (Vertical Dimension of the Lower Facial Third) which is irreversible and ages the face.
What to avoid?
I advise against the temptation to buy the mouthguard or mouthguard on the internet because it must meet specific quality requirements and solve the problem, otherwise it can sometimes harm the patient by aggravating the bruxism or altering the bite.
The fundamental rule is to visit your trusted dentist and ask for advice. The saying “Prevention is better than cure” is truer than ever because the lesions in our molars that can originate can be increasingly complex to solve and can even accelerate our facial aging.
Meditation, breathing and exercise also contribute to reduce stress and help to reduce this unconscious habit. Other recommendations are to have a good working chair, a good pillow and when we are more nervous, try to calm down by taking a short walk to help us disconnect, stretch the body. This will help us to return to the task at hand with more positive thoughts.