Story at a glance

  • Teeth grinding and jaw clenching can damage teeth and may lead to pain or headaches.
  • This often occurs during sleep.
  • Dentists are seeing more cases of cracked teeth since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Dentists are reporting seeing more patients with teeth grinding and jaw clenching, which they attribute to stress related to the coronavirus pandemic. While teeth grinding usually happens while you are asleep, there are some things you can do to lessen the damage.

A reporter at The Washington Post writes about seeing her dentist for a cracked tooth and a cracked filling. The dentist, Jennifer Herbert, says that in general she’s seen more patients with similar issues. “It’s astronomical,” says Herbert, according to the Post. “I’ve seen more patients with problems from grinding in the last few months than I have in the rest of my career.”

Teeth grinding often happens while a person is asleep. The damage over time can include cracked teeth and the pressure may lead to migraines. Some people wear a mouthguard for protection while they sleep to dampen the effects. Jaw clenching is similar in that pressure is applied to the teeth, but there may not be movement that comes with grinding. Both activities are considered part of the medical term bruxism.

Other dentists have also reported similar trends. Some have reported increased jaw pain and migraines, which the patients suggest is because of an uptick in bruxism. “People are coming with more tension type headaches, migraines, decreased opening. They’ll say ‘I used to be able to eat a turkey club sandwich, but now I can’t open as big," says Michelle Augello, owner of Nickel City Dentistry, to WKBW in Buffalo, NY.


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Experts have a few ideas about why this is happening. “One obvious answer is stress,” writes dentist Tammy Chen in The New York Times. “From COVID-induced nightmares to ‘doomsurfing’ to ‘coronaphobia,’ it’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is affecting our collective mental health. That stress, in turn, leads to clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.”

Studies on bruxism have found correlations between teeth grinding and stress or anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it is causation. Increased bruxism could be related to disrupted sleep, and that in turn could affect mood and emotions during the day, says Sylvia Kreibig, a research psychologist at Stanford University in California, who studies the bodily effects of emotions to the Post.


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People who grind their teeth while sleeping can get fitted for a mouthguard, custom made for your mouth if possible. A mouthguard that doesn’t fit well or adds pressure in the wrong places could do more harm than good. If you clench or grind your teeth while you are awake, you can do mindfulness practice, exercises and techniques to train yourself to refrain from doing it, according to an expert who spoke to the Post. Talk to your dentist if you think you may be grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw more than normal.

For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For updated global case counts, check this page maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

You can follow Chia-Yi Hou on Twitter.


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Published on Sep 25, 2020