The pandemic has touched every aspect of our lives, so it stands to reason that it’s impacting our dental health too. “Not only are more patients complaining of jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, and migraines, but I’m seeing three to four tooth fractures every day,” says New York prosthodontist Tammy Chen, DDS. Rodney Raanan, DDS., a Beverly Hills prosthodontist, reports a 120 percent increase in visits to fix cracked teeth over a 10-week period in 2020, compared to the same months in 2019.
Why are these concerns becoming more common? “Covid is maximizing stress,” says holistic dentist Nammy Patel, DDS. “Gum disease and teeth breakage can be evidence of stress. People often don’t identify how much stress they’re under and how it’s affecting them physically until they actually get sick.” The good news: In conjunction with your dentist’s advice, it’s easy to prevent — and treat — the worst dental effects of Covid stress. Here’s how:
Mask-wearing leading to bad breath.
“Now that we’re wearing masks more often, we’re more apt to breathe through our mouth and drink less water,” says Dr. Patel. “Both of these things can lead to dry mouth, which increases your risk for bad breath, gum disease and tooth decay.” This problem has become so commonplace that many dentists have started informally referring to the condition as “mask mouth.”
The easy fix: Focus on breathing through your nose while you’re wearing your mask, which will stave off the dryness that can occur with mouth breathing. Also smart: Chew sugarless gum. Research shows that the chewing action increases saliva production by 204 percent to ward off dry mouth.
Hunching leading to gum problems.
In the rush to set up work-from-home offices, many of us ended up sitting at makeshift desks, leading to poor posture. “If you are hunched over, your spine becomes misaligned, causing your neck and jaw to protrude forward,” explains Dr. Patel. The resulting pain in the jaw can induce headaches and even raise the risk of gum recession by promoting an uneven bite and teeth crowding.
To fix your workspace: “Place the computer screen 2 to 3 feet in front of you with the top of the screen level with your eyes,” says Fredrick Wilson, DO, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health. This makes it easier to sit tall, with your ears in line over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips, preventing the dental health repercussions of poor posture.
Overall super-high stress levels leading to cracked teeth.
“Tooth enamel is strong, but grinding can cause micro-cracks, which lead to chipping and breaking,” says Dr. Patel. And over the past few months, stress grinding increased by 260 percent, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. The good news: It’s easy to prevent broken or cracked teeth if you catch yourself grinding. For example, wearing an inexpensive over-the-counter mouth guard at night provides a cushion to prevent grinding.
Also smart: Supplement with 500 mg. of magnesium daily, suggests periodontist Sandra Moldovan, DDS. Research shows that the mineral relaxes the small muscles in the jaw to reduce grinding. But if you find you’ve cracked or chipped a tooth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.