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Pandemic Stress: What It’s Doing to Your Teeth

2 months ago

Healthy Smiles By Rita Tempel, DDS – This article was published in the Gettysburg Times, August 20, 2020

You may not realize that stress could be wreaking havoc on your teeth, amid this year’s pandemic. In today’s column, I’m going to address a number of trends I’m seeing among patients, and I’ll offer some advice that may help alleviate your stress and improve your dental health.

There are two main dental concerns I’m seeing in countless patients these days, likely as a direct result of pandemic-induced stress. These two trends are somewhat preventable, so I hope that my advice can reach those who need it most, and prevent or improve additional issues.

Gingivitis and periodontitis, also called periodontal disease, is the first trending concern I’d like to address. What exactly is gingivitis? Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums or gingiva. It’s the early stage of gum disease. Some of the warning signs include red, swollen or tender gums that bleed easily. Gingivitis is non-destructive and reversible with treatment. However, untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis; a more serious infection of not only the guns, but the bone surrounding the teeth. When left untreated, periodontitis results in bone loss and eventually leads to tooth loss.  

There are a number of factors, conditions and habits that predispose some patients to gingivitis, including diabetes, pregnancy, smoking and taking certain medications such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs or cancer therapy drugs.

Right now, I believe stress is a major contributing factor of gingivitis. Many patients have been under stress since March 2020, when the pandemic caused our lives to change. Patients who were due in March or April are now four or five months overdue for their dental cleanings. With the temporary closure of dental practices for about three months, dental offices are trying to get caught up on their overdue patients.

The good news is that gingivitis is reversible with a professional dental cleaning, followed by daily brushing and flossing. So if your dentist hasn’t already reached out to you,  please schedule a dental appointment if you are overdue or if you are seeing any warning signs for gingivitis.

One more word about overdue dental appointments—especially for parents: Cavities can grow rapidly in children under the age of 13. That’s because the enamel is much thinner in “baby teeth” or deciduous teeth compared to adult teeth or non-deciduous teeth, so a cavity can easily grow into abscess or infection within months. My fear is that children who are behind on their dental visits may be at risk for dental infections.

Now, for the second pandemic dental trend: Stressed patients are grinding and clenching their teeth, leading to toothaches and additional complications. When we are stressed, it’s often expressed while we sleep, in the form of teeth grinding or clenching, in both adults and children. In addition to stress, teeth grinding, or bruxism, can happen as a result of a breathing-related sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be grinding your teeth in the night: dull headaches, soreness in the jaw, painful or loose teeth, or even fractured teeth. Severe cases of teeth grinding or clenching can result in conditions called TMJ and TMD. These conditions affect the joints and jaw muscles that open and close your mouth.

What can you do, to alleviate grinding and clenching? First, can you get to the source—stress? Here are some techniques that could help: Exercise and meditation have been proven to help reduce stress and anxiety—plus they have many additional health benefits! Secondly, a mouth guard—properly fit by your dentist—can protect your teeth while you sleep.

Aside from these major concerns, what are the two most important things you can do to keep your teeth in tip-top shape? Simply brush and floss your teeth twice a day. These healthy habits cannot be underestimated or overstated.

Dr. Rita Tempel is an Accredited Member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and owner of Gettysburg Smiles Cosmetic & Family Dentistry as well as a Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and owner of Sweet Dreams Gettysburg, LLC,  2018 York Road, Gettysburg. For more information, visit GettysburgSmiles.com, follow @ritatempeldds on Instagram or like her Faceboook page @Gettysburgsmiles or call 717-339-0033.

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