It’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is having a widespread impact on general health and wellbeing.
Dentists around the world are now beginning to report emerging trends thought to be influenced by Covid-induced stress. For instance, a notable increase in jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, achiness in the cheeks and migraines alongside growing complaints of tooth fractures or cracking teeth.
A series of explanations link this recent surge in tooth trauma cases to the Covid pandemic.
Firstly, an unprecedented number of people are now working from home. While some have been able to migrate happily to existing home offices, others have been forced to create makeshift workstations. This has ultimately led to large proportions of people sitting for hours on end with a poor posture, including curvature of the spine and hunched shoulders. The dental concern with this, is that poor posture during the day can trigger a grinding problem at night.
In addition, many of us simply aren’t getting the restorative sleep we require due to corona-related restlessness. While it remains a natural reaction for the body to enter a ‘fight or flight’ response when under duress, this process also overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system, and much of this tension goes straight to the teeth.
Much work is needed to drive greater awareness of ‘Covid-related tooth issues’ as this rise in tooth pain and a lack of understanding of key causes may compound sensitivity. Here at Maida Smiles, we are encouraging our patients to remain vigilant and guiding on ‘detection and prevention’ measures.
For instance, clenching and grinding is a common trigger yet many people are unaware they are doing it. Teeth should not generally touch throughout the day unless you’re actively eating and chewing your food. Instead, your jaw should be relaxed, with a bit of space between the teeth when the lips are closed. If you become aware of a clenching or grinding issue you may wish to consider getting a night guard or retainer, which promote correct alignment and prevent grinding, and perhaps even extend use during the day. This will provide a physical barrier to absorb pressure.
Those of us who continue to work from home should also consider installing a functional and ergonomic workstation to reinforce good posture. Again, it is all too easy to slouch in comfortable home furniture which is not necessarily designed for work purposes. When seated, our shoulders should be over our hips, and ears over our shoulders. Computer screens should be at eye level and you can also try mixing it up with standing and incorporating more movement. Phone calls and certain other tasks present an opportunity to find relief from a seated position.
We also highly recommend incorporating a couple of short stretching exercises into your day. For example, a five-minute window before logging on and after logging off to bookend your day. With consistency, this new routine will bring huge residual benefits. It’s especially important to focus on stretching your back and decompressing your spine, which can become very stiff and achy following long seated periods.
There are further measures which can be introduced before bed. A simple deep breathing exercise is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, which controls the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. Close your eyes, suction your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and breathe in and out through your nose. The 4-7-8 pattern is recommended – breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds and breathing out for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle between 4 and 8 times. The parasympathetic nervous system engages the body’s rest and digestion mechanism, slowing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and allowing for more restful, restorative sleep. The more relaxed your body, the more likely you are to wake up with less tension in the jaw. That means less grinding at night.
While we advise everyone to be especially mindful of oral health during this period, we strongly encourage people to maintain six-monthly check-ups. Those who may detect specific issues with tooth sensitivity or tooth fractures should seek professional guidance at their earliest convenience.