2020 is almost over!
What a year it has been for everyone. I won’t go into details as I am sure we are all more than well aware of the dramatic events of this year. What I did want to touch on though are some observations I have on the effects of the stress of this year on our patients’ mouths. We all know that stress can effect us in a number of ways. Let me tell you about a few of them that we have seen in your mouths.
Now, please keep in mind, there is no research backing up this post. This is purely based on my observations in our dental clinic in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. I recognize that this is not a science-based conclusion, nor may it represent the patient populations of other clinics. I just thought it was interesting so I thought I would share for those interested as well.
I would say the number one call I received during our COVID-19 shutdown this Spring was about broken teeth. Most of these patients were not in pain, but had broken part of their tooth off. These patients were able to manage their broken tooth at home with some TLC and in some cases, the application of some sensitivity toothpaste to the sensitive spot. Once we were able to reopen and see them, we were able to diagnose many fractured teeth. More than I have ever seen! And in talking to colleagues across Canada, they were seeing the same thing – an increased number of broken teeth. I can only assume that the increased stress people have been under caused them to grind or clench more, leading to these fractures.
I have also noticed an increase in the number of our patients coming in with jaw pain or Temporomandibular Disorder (TMD). The stress that we are under is often taken out on our mouths by grinding and/or clenching, and often while we are sleeping so we cannot control it. These increased forces in our jaws puts extra strain on the muscles, joints and bones that make up our jaw joint or Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ). Some of the patients we are seeing have long standing jaw issues that are being aggravated by the current situation but many of these patients are having jaw pain for the first time. It can be alarming but so far we have been able to manage these cases relatively easily.
My hygienists have also noticed that our patients have more buildup or calculus on their teeth. Now, that is to be expected with the patients who had to cancel their cleaning appointments due to our COVID shutdown. But they are also seeing it with our patients who are not overdue. The ones who were in just before the shutdown and then returned right on schedule. I can only assume that the increase in stress has affected the buildup somehow. Now, your guess is as good as mine as to why:
- Did they slack on their brushing and flossing while they were on lockdown or working extra helping their kids with homeschooling?
- Did the stress cause the chemistry of their saliva to change making it easier for the plaque to calcify?
- Did the stress cause the amount of their saliva to decrease making it easier for the plaque to calcify?
Was it a combination of the above? We will never know. And it may be different for every patient. What we do know, is the need for our patients to get in for their regular dental hygiene appointments has not decreased. If anything, there are some patients who we will need to see more during this stressful time to keep their mouths as healthy as we can.
What can we learn from this?
Stress can do surprising things to our bodies and our mouths. This global pandemic has sure shown us that. It will be important to keep this in mind when our patients are going through stressful times in the future. We can be aware of these things and maybe even counsel them on it before they happen to try to prevent some of these stress-related dental events from happening.
The other thing we can learn from this year is that our community is strong and resourceful. We came together through this nightmare of a year and for the most part helped support each other. Our patients and team members seem to be coping with all the stresses they are under as best they can and that’s all we can truly hope for.
Here’s to us coming out the other side of this with a smile on our faces.
Happy New Year!
Dr. Robyn Moreau