Dentists have reported an increase in patients experiencing symptoms of tooth grinding due to raised anxiety levels during the pandemic.
Tooth grinding, also known as bruxism, can be caused by orthodontic issues or loose fillings, but it is commonly associated with stress and anxiety.
Studies show that levels of anxiety increased during the pandemic. Dentists are now seeing the effects of heightened anxiety in patients, with more and more people showing signs of bruxism. Symptoms include tooth wear, headaches, jaw pain and restricted movement in the temporomandibular joint, which joins the skull to the jaw.
The pandemic has been stressful for parents, adults who have lost jobs or been forced to change their working arrangements and those who were worried about getting ill or losing loved ones who were vulnerable to the virus. Although restrictions have eased and many people have returned to a life that is much closer to ‘normal,’ the implications of lockdowns and pandemic stress are likely to last for a long time.
For dentists, rising stress levels are a concern, particularly at a time when it’s difficult to get dental appointments due to dentist shortages and practices switching from NHS to private dentistry. People who have signs of tooth grinding, such as damaged teeth and jaw pain and stiffness, may not be able to see a dentist, which could result in further damage.
In some cases, tackling stress and taking steps to reduce anxiety could prevent bruxism, but dentists often recommend using a bite guard for more severe cases. Bite guards are custom-made and they prevent contact between the upper and lower arches of teeth during sleep.
Dentists in the UK are not alone in spotting signs of bruxism becoming more prevalent. Dental professionals in the US and Australia have also reported a surge in the number of patients with symptoms.