COVID-19: Dentist Reports Increase in Teeth Clenching, Bruxism and TMD

Repetitive clenching or grinding of the teeth (bruxism) can be caused by stress. Paradoxically, it can also relieve stress, by increasing cranial blood flow and stimulating the centers in the brain that influence increased release of dopamine and serotonin.

On the other hand, teeth are not made to withstand the heavy repetitive forces that bruxism can cause.

Chewing food normally will create forces up to 45 pounds of pressure per square inch on teeth when you chew a steak, for example . In addition, most tooth contact during eating lasts at most 5 minutes in total.

Compare this to the forces created by bruxing, which can last as long as 8 hours in a 24-hour period. And due to the strong jaw muscles (the masseter) most people can exert anywhere from as little as 250 pounds to as much as 800 pounds of pressure per square inch.

A typical tooth fractures at around 125 pounds of pressure. So, you can see that normal chewing of 5 minutes per day is not enough to break a tooth. However, bruxism or clenching creates massive forces that over a period of time can easily create fractures in teeth that allow them to suddenly break. These fractures can be in small pieces or even in larger pieces that can require tooth removal.

The unusual and excessive stresses we are all  experiencing during the COVID pandemic has created enormous social stresses that translate into increased levels of bruxism in the general population.

As a result, in my practice, I am seeing an enormous increase in the number of broken teeth. Some patients are reporting that their tooth broke when they were eating soft spaghetti. But most people do not link together the constant subconscious habit of bruxism with the singular event of a broken tooth until it is pointed out to them.

We are also seeing many more cases of jaw symptoms commonly called TMD or temporomandibular joint dysfunction. This symptom of this syndrome includes cracking or popping noises when eating or chewing, and muscular pain in the muscles that support chewing.

To prevent this toll on your mouth, try to become aware of subconscious clenching and grinding or bruxism. Use a custom fit night guard which can reduce the forces of bruxing on your teeth and jaw and reduce stress in as many ways as you can find. There are many techniques including mindfulness, yoga, exercise and more which can reduce stress and help you ride out this unusually stressful time in our lives.