How pandemic stress is showing up in the oral health of Nova Scotians

Dental professionals in Nova Scotia are seeing signs of pandemic stress in mouths.

Wendy Stewart, president-elect of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, says over the past few months she has noticed more patients show up with oral health problems to the dental centre where she works in Fall River, N.S.

One issue is an increase in plaque buildup on people’s teeth.

But she also said she is seeing signs of teeth grinding and clenching in patients that previously didn’t have those issues.

“Sometimes I find my patients will point out to me that their front teeth look a little bit flatter than usual, or they’ve noticed a little bit of chipping,” Stewart said.

“It would be hard to quantify it, but before the pandemic I might address it one or twice a week, and now I tend to address it two to three times a day.”

Teeth grinding and clenching can lead to teeth damage and in rare cases serious problems, such as jaw joint pain and dysfunction. (Submitted)

According to a recent survey by the Nova Scotia Dental Association, 37 percent of Nova Scotians commonly experience teeth grinding and/or clenching.

“Triggers like trauma, stress and anxiety play a huge role,” said Dr. James Brady, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon with the Dalhousie University faculty of dentistry. Other causes can include sleep disorders, as well as certain medications and recreational drugs.

Brady said teeth grinding and clenching can even happen without a person noticing, for example while a person is sleeping at night — but there are signs to look out for. They include difficulty opening your jaw in the morning, inflammation, facial pain, wear on the teeth, indentations on the teeth and tongue, or lines along the cheeks.

Without treatment, Brady said teeth grinding and clenching can lead to teeth damage and in rare cases serious problems, such as jaw joint pain and dysfunction.

Oral surgeon James Brady, left, says about 15 percent of adults grind their teeth at night. (Submitted)

A dental health professional can provide a bite plate for treatment.

Brady said while waiting for an appointment, there is a lot people can do at home for treatment.

“Take the tip of your tongue and just put it up to the roof of your mouth behind your upper teeth, it naturally kind of relaxes all of those muscles of mastication,” Brady said.

Other tricks he said people can try at home include:

  • Switch to a soft diet
  • Stop gum chewing
  • Self-circular massage on the sore area
  • Use of a hot cloth against the sore area
  • Topical NSAIDS, e.g. Voltaren Emulgel
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (consult with your physician first)

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