Let’s get real: this year has been stressful.
Not only has the coronavirus pandemic upended all our lives and redefined what it means to be ‘normal,’ but lockdowns and social restrictions have brought on a whole host of mental and physical health concerns.
Stress, as it turns out, is the granddaddy of them all.
In non-pandemic times, stress wreaks havoc on the body – according to the Mayo Clinic, stress leads to headaches, chest pain, fatigue, changes in sex drive, nausea, sleep problems, and chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
But when it comes to mental health, the damage is often hidden, resulting in increased sweating, anxiety, rapid heart rate, depression, restlessness, social withdrawal, and changes in mood and behavior. Often, the only sign someone is suffering from stress is a new or increased habit of grinding their teeth, otherwise known as bruxism.
An op-ed in the New York Times, written by practicing dentist Tammy Chen DDS, highlights this very issue. She explains:
“I closed my midtown Manhattan practice to all but dental emergencies in mid-March, in line with American Dental Association guidelines and state government mandate. Almost immediately, I noticed an uptick in phone calls: jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, achiness in the cheeks, migraines. Most of these patients I effectively treated via telemedicine.
But when I reopened my practice in early June, the fractures started coming in: at least one a day, every single day that I’ve been in the office. On average, I’m seeing three to four; the bad days are six-plus fractures.”
Frankly, when considering the state of the world, this isn’t surprising.
The stress of the pandemic and the unpredictability of lockdowns has kept us in a constant state of agitation for nearly a year, triggering our bodies natural ‘fight or flight’ response.
So, rather than having a chance to rest and recharge, all that survival energy turns into tension and all that tension goes straight to your teeth.
And while there’s currently no research to suggest it, this rise in bruxism and COVID’s lasting – and still widely unknown – effects on our health has brought to light another potential side effect: unexplained tooth loss.
In a November 16th article from Huffington Post, author Julia Ries explains that COVID-19 survivors, or ‘longhaulers’ as they’ve come to be known, are just starting to discover the lasting side effects that the coronavirus has on the body long after they’ve been deemed ‘cured.’
One of those is sudden loss of teeth.
Scroll through the Twitter account for Survivor Corps, an online support group for COVID survivors, and you’ll see story after story of people talking about their sudden loss of otherwise healthy teeth. The data is lacking in this area, but as vascular biologist William Li told Huffington Post, the cause could “ultimately be a problem with blood flow.”
Because COVID attacks blood vessels in the lungs and causes blood clots throughout the body, this could be what ultimately leads to loss of teeth, explains Li.
See, the jaw and gums are rich in blood vessels that directly feed into the health of your teeth. If something came along, like a virus, that restricted or deterred the amount of blood and oxygen your teeth received, that could cause tooth loss.
So, what can you do?
If you’re fortunate enough to never have contracted COVID, there’s many steps you can take to reduce your stress levels and ease the tension in your teeth and jaws:
- Relax. End your days with a 20-minute Epsom salt soak before bed.
- Meditate. Never done it before? Apps like HeadSpace and Calm are free to use and can help guide you through your first few sessions.
- Disconnect. Put down your devices, take a break from the news and social media and go out for 30-minute walk once a day.
- Check in. Thanks to Zoom and other tools, we’ve all been able to keep in touch these last few months. But if you’re feeling stressed or need someone to talk to, check in with loved ones to help ease some of the tension.
- Talk to someone. Telehealth isn’t just for the doctor’s office – you can also schedule time to talk with a licensed psychiatrist or counselor. For information and resources on Telemental Health Services visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website.
And if you did contract COVID and recovered and are noticing issues with your teeth and gums as a result, such as sensitivity, looseness, excessive bleeding, or any other oral health concern, speak to your dentist right away.
While there’s currently no research to indicate if COVID is directly impacting the health of teeth, your dentist is the best resource to identify and start treatment on any oral health issues you might be having.