2020 has been an unprecedented year, both in terms of world events and in terms of our health. While the pandemic and its accompanying concerns drag on, other health problems are also on the rise. These include a myriad of diverse dental and oral health issues, which according to research published by the ADA are predominantly stress-related.
According to a survey of thousands of dentists conducted by the ADA’s Health Policy Institute, there’s been an increase in the instances of various oral health issues compared to the same time last year. These include:
- Teeth Grinding and Clenching: up 54.9%
- Chipped Teeth: up 52.4%
- Cracked Teeth: up 53.4%
- TMD and Related Symptoms, Including Head and Jaw Pain: up 53.4%
- Cavities: up 26.4%
- Gum Disease: up 29.7%
This evidence goes beyond anecdotes or coincidence; it shows a real trend in offices around the country. So what’s behind these increases are fairly specific ailments? While it’s difficult to establish a direct link to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fact that many of these ailments are stress-related suggests that Americans across the nation are feeling the strain. That’s understandable: we live in a time dominated by political and economic uncertainty due to the pandemic, the economic problems that stem from it, and a contentious and often-ugly election season. The release of stress hormones builds up tension in the body that needs an outlet, and grinding of the teeth is a perfect isometric release. This may be the cause of chipped and cracked teeth, teeth grinding and clenching, and the increase in TMD. Likewise, the increased rate of cavities and gum disease may connect with the contemporary detachment from normal routines and the resulting neglect of regular brushing and flossing. These issues appear to be ongoing, placing dentists’ offices nationwide at the forefront of dealing with them.
So what can you as an oral health care provider do? There are a variety of tactics you can employ to help your patients at this time, both by assisting them in understanding what’s going on and then educating them as to what they can do about it.
- Let them know that this is an issue and that they’re not just complaining about nothing. There’s no reason for them to tough it out and hope it goes away, but rather they should seek treatment for persistent symptoms.
- Tell them what to look out for: muscle aches and pains, pain in the teeth or jaw, heat and cold-sensitive teeth, clicking or popping of the jaw. These can all be symptoms of larger problems and should be dealt with as early as possible.
- Clearly communicate to your patients that your office is open, that it’s safe to come in if they need to, and then ensure they know how to communicate with you. A gentle reminder can go a long way in helping someone get the treatment they need.
- Finally, remind your patients of all ages that despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, regular brushing and flossing is their best defense against tooth decay and other oral health issues. It’s easy for something so seemingly small to get lost in the shuffle, and a gentle nudge from a trusted dentist might help.
It’s a difficult time for many of us, but by helping your patients understand this additional issue and what they can do about it you’ll be reducing the overall stress level while helping them pursue their best possible oral health. Along the way, keep an eye on your own stress level and symptoms and practice self-care–dentists aren’t immune to stress either!