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Tampa Bay dentists say pandemic has us grinding our teeth

Clenching and grinding in the most stressful of times has caused a spike in cracked and broken teeth. Also, some of us are slacking off on brushing. You know who you are.
Dentists are seeing more cracked teeth likely related to the current stressful climate. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
Dentists are seeing more cracked teeth likely related to the current stressful climate. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Sep. 26, 2020

This may not surprise you, but it turns out that some of us are so stressed in the current state of the world that we are grinding our teeth until they crack.

Dr. Phong Phane at Creating Smiles Dental in St. Petersburg said that in the before-times, a patient came in with an emergency cracked tooth maybe once a week.

“Now we’re getting one or two a day,” she said.

“I think people are more stressed out, and they’re grinding their teeth and taking it out on their teeth,” said St. Petersburg’s Dr. Larry Klein.

In other downer dental news, it appears that without our regular routine of rushing off to the office and school, some of us are slacking when it comes to brushing, something we’ve been told to do twice a day since we were still in baby teeth.

And dentists are noticing.

“‘Quarantine gingivitis’ is what our office is calling it,” said Phane — gingivitis being early-stage gum disease evidenced by swollen, tender gums.

It’s official: The coronavirus crisis has crept into every corner of our lives, including, apparently, our mouths.

Local dentists say some people grind their teeth and clench their jaws in times of stress. And lately they’re seeing a lot of “broken teeth, sore teeth from grinding, sensitive teeth from grinding,” said Dr. Bryan Thatcher, whose practice is in Sun City Center.

“Not only are we seeing the cracked teeth, we’re seeing the headaches,” said Dr. Jeff Spilman, a dentist in St. Petersburg. He calls grinding the equivalent of running a marathon or doing bicep curls at night.

“Teeth are biomechanically very strong,” said Phane. “But so is our jaw.” She’s even seen cracks in what dentists call virgin teeth that have no decay or dental work.

In a recent piece she wrote in the New York Times, Dr. Tammy Chen suggested additional factors that could contribute to the surge in tooth trauma she has seen at her Manhattan dental practice.

Given that many of us are working from sofas or kitchen counters instead of proper work stations, ergonomics could be a factor, she wrote. Lack of good sleep, too.

If you are lucky, or at least luckier, a cracked or chipped tooth may be repaired with a filling. If it’s more extensive, it may require a crown or a root canal. Worst case scenario: The tooth would have to be extracted.

“It’s the last thing we need,” said Carrollwood dentist Dr. Magied Bishara. “More dental issues.”

Dentists also are seeing patients who haven’t been brushing as much because they’ve fallen out of that get-up-shower-eat-breakfast-brush-your-teeth-and-out-the-door regimen.

“People working from home, they might not address it as much or as frequently as they used to,” said Bishara.

“They just get out of that routine and let things go a bit,” said Spilman.

And as we’ve been told since we were kids, not brushing can lead to cavities and gum disease — not to mention dental bills and, well, more stress.

Some tips from dentists:

  • If you grind, consider a mouth guard or night guard, which keeps your top and bottom teeth from touching. Patients can be custom-fitted for a mouth guard at the dentist’s office. And some dentists say even an over-the-counter guard worn at night can help. “Primarily nighttime is when we’re seeing the kind of uncontrolled clenching,” said Thatcher.
  • Be mindful of clenching your teeth when you’re awake. Many people don’t realize they’re doing it.
  • Find ways to de-stress before bed. Avoid caffeine, take a bath, do yoga, read a book. Thatcher encourages people who are stressed to limit watching the news. “Go to your happy place,” Spilman said. “Whatever it takes to unwind.”
  • If you’re postponing going to the dentist’s office for professional cleanings because of the coronavirus, Thatcher recommends “just impeccable oral hygiene and maybe a good electric toothbrush. I think that would be really beneficial.”
  • Even if you’re working in a T-shirt in your recliner, stay true to that regular teeth-brushing routine. As that poster in many a childhood dentist’s office waiting room said: You don’t have to brush your teeth, just the ones you want to keep.