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The Pandemic of Cracked Teeth

By Dr. Sadaf Alam of Urban Smiles Dental NC

Dr. Sadaf Alam- Owner and Dentist at Urban Smiles Dental NC

When I returned to work in May 2020, after weeks of complete shutdown, I noticed a large influx of emergency patients presenting with cracked or fractured teeth. Most of the time they were unaware of what was going on. I heard things like “my jaw is killing me”, “my teeth throb all the time”, “I bit down on soft bread and my tooth broke”. To add to this list was migraine headaches, neck and shoulder pain, inability to open mouth fully, pain and clicking in jaw joints to name a few. The presenting complaint has neither ended nor slowed down. When questioned whether they were clenching or grinding their teeth, the response was often, “Oh No. I don’t grind my teeth”. I would hear this repeatedly. It is important to understand that your teeth can last you a lifetime and your dentist can help you achieve this goal.

So why are so many people experiencing these symptoms lately?

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on peoples’ teeth and temporomandibular joints (TMJ). Multi factorial stress due to loss of jobs, ill loved ones, long term illness and death has made a huge impact on people’s daily lives. Isolation is also a problem for some people. Some individuals have started clenching or grinding their teeth in their sleep because of the added stress. The New York Times recently published an article about how dentists around the country are reporting pandemic-induced, teeth clenching. We are seeing more broken and fractured teeth from anxiety-driven teeth grinding. Most people are not even aware they are engaging in teeth grinding.

What is teeth grinding or bruxism?

It is excessive grinding of the teeth or clenching of the jaw. This condition can affect adults and children and can occur during day or night.

Some people don't have any symptoms. Others may experience headaches, jaw pain, tooth pain, or other dental problems. If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while and last time they didn’t notice the signs or there is no one to tell you you’re making grinding noises in your sleep, you may wonder why you’re waking up with a headache or why you suddenly have a cracked tooth.

Teeth are naturally brittle, and everyone has tiny fissures in their teeth from chewing, grinding and everyday use. Teeth can take only so much trauma before they eventually break. Think of a wall that has a tiny spider crack that, with weathering, can become bigger and bigger until it becomes a gaping hole. We want to prevent any added stress from grinding that could cause these microscopic cracks to propagate into larger cracks and, ultimately, a catastrophic failure requiring root canal, a crown or other major dental treatment.

Children with this condition will often improve on their own. For adults, dental guards may help protect the teeth from damage.

Can Dentists Stop Teeth Grinding?

Dentists do not technically stop teeth grinding, but they can provide mouth guards you wear at night to protect your teeth from the damaging effects of teeth grinding. Dentists also make their patients aware that they are grinding their teeth so they can work on the root cause, which is usually stress or anxiety.

If you have a night guard or retainer, devices that keep the teeth in proper alignment and prevent grinding, try popping them in during the day. These appliances provide a physical barrier, absorbing and dispersing pressure. Dental night guards counter the damaging effects of nighttime bruxism. They protect teeth and ease headaches, jaw pain and more. The trays act as cushions between the teeth, preventing you from wearing down the enamel and ultimately fracturing a tooth. They also protect restorations, like veneers and fillings. As I often tell my patients, I’d much rather you crack a night guard than crack a tooth. Your dentist can custom make a night guard to assure proper fit.

What Are Custom-fitted Mouth Guards?

The types of night guards available differ in comfort, cost, safety and durability. Over the counter and online products are typically cheaper than custom night guards, but they're not made to fit your teeth perfectly. In addition, a study in the British Dental Journal notes that night guards purchased online are associated with tissue damage and teeth movement, and may even present a choking hazard. Getting a custom-fitted night guard from your dentist will provide the safest, most accurate fit since the guard is made specifically for your teeth.

Before deciding which type of night guard is best for you, discuss your options with your dentist. Then, you can feel confident about making the right choice for your dental needs.

What Is Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome?

Temporomandibular joint syndrome is a condition where your temporomandibular joints become painful and inflamed. These are the joints which attach your jaw to your skull. They are hinges, allowing for easy jaw movement.

If you have TMJ syndrome, you may experience:

  • Jaw pain

  • Trouble opening your mouth fully

  • A jaw which makes clicking or popping sounds

  • Difficulty chewing

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, over 10 million Americans suffer from TMJ syndrome.

Will a Bruxism Mouth Guard Offer TMJ Pain Relief?

TMJ disorder can come from a blow to the jaw or it can be caused by excessive teeth grinding, which strains the joints. If you grind your teeth, a custom night guard meant specifically for your TMJ disorder can ease the pain and help the joint move easier. While there are other TMJ syndrome treatments, a night guard is the most conservative option.




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