It’s been a rough year. Some of us are stressed out. There’s no doubt you’ve felt some pangs of anxiety over the past few months, whether you’re worried about your job or your health, concerned about loved ones you can’t see in person, alarmed by stories you see on the news, or tackling the overwhelming task of working from home while helping your child learn about fractions over Zoom.
We all know that ongoing stress and anxiety can be bad for your physical health. It can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, digestive problems, and more. But did you know that stress can cause major issues with your dental health, too? When you’re stressed out, there’s a good chance you’ll grind your teeth, and you might not even know you’re doing it. If left unchecked, teeth-grinding can lead to serious dental issues over time.
Dentists across the country and right here at our Overland Park dental office are seeing an increase in fractured teeth as the pandemic wears on. We’ve also seen more patients reporting tooth sensitivity, headaches, and jaw pain, all caused by stress-induced teeth-grinding. If severe tooth-grinding goes unchecked, you could require extensive dental work, such as bridges, crowns, root canals, or even dentures to repair the damage.
If you’re grinding your teeth, you’re not alone. Even in pre-pandemic times, grinding or clenching of the teeth was such a common issue that it earned an official name: bruxism. You’re most likely to do it at night when you’re asleep. Due to the pandemic, some of us find good, quality sleep hard to come by, and sleep disorders can lead to bruxism.
If that’s not enough, the pandemic has added yet another factor that makes bruxism more common these days. Many of us are working from home now, bent over our laptops at the kitchen table or hunched over paperwork on the couch, and our posture is suffering, making us more likely to grind our teeth.
How do you know you’re doing it? In some cases, a loved one might actually hear you grinding your teeth at night and let you know. You might wake up with a headache or sore jaw or have other symptoms throughout the day such as sensitive teeth, achy cheeks, or migraines. Worst of all, you could suddenly break a tooth. Any of these symptoms warrants a phone call to your Overland Park dentist. Even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s important to schedule regular checkups with your dentist so they can check for cracked or flattened teeth and catch the problem before it gets any worse.
If your dentist sees signs of bruxism, they will likely recommend you wear a bite guard at night. These are typically made from flexible laminate or acrylic material and provide a cushion between your upper and lower teeth, reducing friction when you grind your teeth at night. You can find relatively inexpensive versions at drug stores, but your dentist can also custom fit one just for you. These custom versions, typically made using a cast of your own teeth, offer the most comfort and protection, last longer, and may be covered by your insurance plan.
A bite guard will offer protection while you’re grinding your teeth, but how do you stop grinding them in the first place? First, check your posture, especially if you’re working from home. If you’ve been working from the couch or bed, set up a work station with a real desk and chair. Remember to take breaks every hour so you’re not sitting for too long.
Now comes the big task: reducing stress. Feeling entirely stress-free in 2020 may seem next to impossible, but you can take a few steps to at least manage the tension and worry you’re feeling. You can probably find thousands of books, articles, or videos on this topic, so spend a little time doing some research. Here’s some of the better advice we’ve uncovered:
- Log off. Sure, you want to keep up with what’s going on in the world, but excessively reading upsetting news on your phone or computer is called “doomscrolling” and it can reinforce negative thoughts. Pick a few trusted news sources, choose a specific time of day to check them, and set a timer.
- Find a hobby you love. Since you’re not checking the news all day, you’ll have time to find a new activity or revisit an old activity that gives you joy. Read an upbeat novel. Play music. Take an online art class.
- Sleep more. Make sure you’re getting at least six to eight hours of sleep each night. Go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Avoid excessive napping and caffeine in the afternoons.
- Get outside. Take “de-stress” breaks throughout the day. While the weather is nice, you can get some light exercise as well as a little sunshine and fresh air. A walk at lunchtime—even a short one—can help elevate your mood and will help you sleep better at night.
- Eat well. We can’t stress this enough. Healthy eating is good for every aspect of your physical, dental, and mental health. Eat well-balanced meals, abstain from sugar and caffeine in the evening, and take it easy on the alcohol. You might even talk to your primary care doctor about taking a multivitamin or other supplements.
- Talk it out. Being physically isolated from others during the pandemic doesn’t mean you have to be socially isolated. Reach out to family, friends, and community members, even if it’s over the phone, online, or through a video call.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of bruxism or have any other questions about your dental health, your Overland Park dentist can help! Our office is open, and we’re adhering to strictest safety protocols to keep our patients and staff safe. Call Watts Family Dental at (913) 338-3384 to schedule an appointment or chat with a member of our friendly staff.