The pandemic turned Charlotteans into teeth grinders

The pandemic turned Charlotteans into teeth grinders
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Many of us picked up new hobbies throughout the pandemic — making banana bread, baseball cards, Netflix-binging. 

Unfortunately, some of us have also added “teeth grinder” to our COVID resumes. If pandemic-prompted stress has you grinding your teeth lately, you’re not alone. 

Why it matters: A new survey shows that 70 percent of dentists have seen an increased rate of teeth grinding and jaw clenching (collectively called bruxism) since the pandemic started. The trend is also happening locally.

  • “I’ve been doing this for almost 12 years, and in the last year and a half I’ve seen more cracked teeth than I’ve seen in the rest of my career combined. It’s shocking to me. I’m not the type to blame everything on COVID, but the proof is in the pudding,” says Dr. Chris Cerasaro, DMD and co-owner of Crown Point Family Dentistry.

While some people who deal with bruxism battle persistent jaw soreness or headaches, not everyone has the pain associated with the condition. In fact, some people may not even realize they’re clenching and grinding, especially since it tends to be worse as you sleep.

But even if you don’t realize you’re dealing with the issue, Dr. Cerasaro says you’re still at risk of long-term complications, including receding gums and broken or cracked teeth.

Go deeper: So why the sudden increase in bruxism rates? Dr. Cerasaro says that the pandemic has fostered the perfect environment for intensified clenching and grinding.

  • “Any time the body is undergoing anxiety that it’s not used to, we see an increase in bruxism,” he says. “We see an increase when people are undergoing times of stress or sadness. If you’re sick, like with a virus, it’s common to see an increase.”

Emily Goodrich, a nurse practitioner at Aria Aesthetics & Wellness, says she’s seeing an increase in clients who are dealing with bruxism, too.

“It’s causing them headaches, it’s radiating into their necks, it’s causing teeth pain,” she says.

And even if a client doesn’t explicitly mention bruxism, Goodrich says she can usually tell just by looking at someone if they’re a teeth grinder.

“The shape of the face, especially right there at the jawline, looks almost chipmunk-y,” Goodrich says.

This is due to over-strengthening of the jaw muscles caused by consistent grinding.

If you’re looking to ditch the woodland creature effect and prevent pain and possible tooth damage, there are a few steps you can take: 

Invest in a nightguard

Though they’re not the sexiest apparatus of all time, nightguards play a critical role in minimizing the impact of grinding and clenching. Dr. Cerasaro calls them “the first line of defense.”

  • You can find inexpensive versions at your local pharmacy, but Dr. Cerasaro says it’s worth it to pay a visit to your dentist and invest in a nightguard that’s specifically fit to your mouth.
  • “You want one that’s customized to your teeth to make sure that it’s not only protecting the teeth but also stabilizing your bite and your jaw,” Dr. Cerasaro says.
  • Nightguards help not only with reducing damaged teeth, but also with fewer headaches and decreased jaw pain.

Consider Botox

Not just for eliminating fine lines and wrinkles, Botox can be a game-changer for teeth grinders, Goodrich says. She regularly uses the product to treat clients dealing with bruxism.

  • Goodrich says that Botox or similar neurotoxins, like Dysport, injected in the jaw stops the nerve from telling the muscle to contract and makes involuntary grinding much harder.
  • You’ll only need a small amount of Botox to make a difference.
  • Botox takes seven to 10 days to work and typically lasts three months. Goodrich recommends starting with a minimal dose, waiting the full 10 days, then coming back for more if you’re not seeing improvement.
  • You can see an esthetician for the treatment, though some dentists and oral surgeons also offer it.
  • Depending on your plan, Botox may or may not be covered by your insurance. You can expect to spend roughly $250 out of pocket, Goodrich estimates, though that price can vary depending on your specific situation.

Try a facial massage

Massage focused on just the facial area can help alleviate bruxism-related pain.

  • “People don’t even realize how much stress and tension they hold in the jaw during the day as they’re concentrating, worried, or working,” says Kristen Brown, master esthetician and owner of Charlotte Sugaring. “Facial massage focuses on stimulating the muscles under the skin, as well as draining the lymphatic system and releasing tension in the face and jaw.”

Lastly, Dr. Cerasaro recommends simply tuning into your body and noticing when you’ve got the urge to clench or grind.

“A lot of times I’ll tell a patient, ‘Hey, you look like you’re doing some clenching and grinding.’ They’ll say, ‘No way, Dr. C.’ I tell them just to think about it. To notice it. Almost universally when they come back in six months they’ll go, ‘You were right! When I was just at the stoplight just now, I felt myself doing it.'” 

While being aware of your tendency to clench or grind won’t stop bruxism entirely, Dr. Cerasaro says it can play a role in reducing the severity of the issue.

 

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