The coronavirus pandemic, the contentious presidential election, racial strife — people have had plenty of things to stress over this year.
That stress has led some people to experience physical problems such as teeth-grinding and jaw-clenching.
Dentists — locally and nationally — are seeing more patients who complain of jaw pain from clenching their jaws or grinding their teeth.
Dr. Gene Gaspard, a member of the Nebraska Dental Association, said he has seen a 5% to 10% increase in patients with related symptoms.
His patients at Family Dentistry of Bellevue have reported headaches, jaw soreness and fractured teeth. Many people, especially ones who don’t regularly visit the dentist, may not realize they’re doing it, Gaspard said.
Dr. Dan Beninato, owner of Premier Dental in Omaha, said he sees patients with similar symptoms daily.
“It’s really common,” Beninato said. “When people come into the dental office, we’ll see signs of grinding or clenching that people may not be aware of.”
Stress tends to be the main problem.
Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw can lead to bigger problems, including broken teeth, jaw pain, headaches and muscle soreness, Beninato said.
Beninato said his patients have bounced around from specialist to specialist until they realized their symptoms stemmed from jaw problems.
Improper posture from working outside of a typical office setting can cause problems, too.
“It could be a contributing factor,” Beninato said. “When you add all these things together, you get the perfect storm — stress, posture issues, grinding. It all adds up and takes its toll.”
Dr. Stephen A. Coffey, an oral and maxiofacial surgeon, said people who have had a lot of dental work might be more susceptible to breaking or fracturing of teeth.
Coffey said he hasn’t seen a notable increase in patients with jaw problems since Oral Surgery Associates reopened after being closed during the early stages of the pandemic. But the practice’s offices, which are in Omaha, Council Bluffs, Papillion and Fremont, have been busy since elective procedures could again be offered.
Most people experiencing jaw pain related to grinding or clenching, Coffey said, usually can take care of the problems themselves.
Coffey, Beninato and Gaspard offered these tips:
• Find a way to relieve stress.
• If your doctor OKs it, try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, such as Advil or Motrin.
• Avoid chewing gum. The repetitive motion can make things feel worse.
• Try modifying your diet to include softer foods and foods that don’t require a lot of chewing. “If you sprain your ankle, the solution is not to walk on it. Minimize function of those muscles,” Gaspard said.
• Massage sore muscles and apply heat.
• Check your posture. In a normal, healthy posture, Beninato said, your teeth won’t be resting on top of each other.
If at-home solutions aren’t working and you’re experiencing headaches or tooth or muscle pain daily, call your dentist. He or she probably will offer a mouth guard or splint to wear that will reduce the intensity and frequency of teeth-grinding at night.
Beninato said patients should steer clear of do-it-yourself mouth and night guards.
“Hang in there,” Beninato said. “The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to resolve these problems.”
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