Tooth trauma and other evidence of teeth grinding appear to be on the rise in Michigan, with dentists and oral surgeons pointing to stress and anxiety as the root of the problem.
Dr. Vince Benivegna, an East Lansing oral surgeon, said he and his peers have certainly noticed the trend, at least since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, younger patients are showing up with a fractured tooth that previously had no fillings or other work done to it.
Not only are there more signs of grinding, but more patients are noting diagnoses of anxiety and depression on their health forms when they seek dental care.
“We’ve actually tabulated it up and it’s about 20% to 25% of our adolescents patients are checking those boxes,” said Benivegna, who also serves as president of the Michigan Dental Association.
“I think everybody is a little more stressed out these days. All those comorbidities that go along with stress, you know, can definitely affect your dental health and your teeth for sure.”
The habit of clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth, whether awake or asleep, is known as bruxism. The habit can begin at various stages in life and has been linked to stress and/or breathing difficulties during sleep, according to the American Dental Association.
Grinding can result in cracked or broken teeth or restorations like fillings and crowns. It can also damage the tissues and jaw bones that support the teeth.
A survey conducted by the Health Policy Institute found that 71% of dentists saw an increase in teeth grinding and clenching during the pandemic. Additionally, 63% reported an increase in cracked or chipped teeth, and 62% reported symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder, which include headaches and jaw pain.
In the past, Dr. Jehan Wakeem said she would first see signs of teeth grinding in young adults as they pick up stressors like a new job or their first house. Nowadays, however, she’s seeing those signs in teens and even young children.
“We have a lot of 8-year-olds who come in and they’re wearing their teeth flat,” said Wakeem, a Macomb County dentist with more than 28 years experience. “As new teeth come in, they’re being traumatized. You can injure adult teeth before they’re formed completely.”
Dr. Benivegna said patients are often unaware that they’re grinding their teeth at night. They may be made aware by a parent or partner, or by their dentist who may notice flattening of the cusp of teeth or cracked fillings.
Dentists will often prescribe an oral appliance called a “night guard” to wear in the evening. The guard is meant to absorb the pressure that would otherwise be placed on the teeth.
Wakeem is prescribing more evening bite guards in recent months than she did years ago. She said they’re a good way to manage grinding and protect your teeth, but it’s also important to evaluate the stress in your life.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 90% of Americans believe the nation is in the midst of a mental health crisis. An estimated 34% of adults younger than 30 rated their mental health as “only fair” or “poor,” while about half noted frequent anxiety and 33% noted feeling depressed within the last year.
“Reducing stress has to be the first thing that people do to try to manage that grinding,” Wakeem said. “When you’re grinding at night, you don’t have a choice in the matter.”
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