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Jaw-clenching year: How to deal with COVID-19 stress if it's causing you to grind, clench your teeth

Dentists nationwide and in our area are seeing a spike in patients reporting jaw pain from clenching and grinding their teeth, especially while they sleep.

From the pandemic to the election, the past few months had many of us ready to pull our hair out.

For some, this year has been downright jaw-clenching.

Newswatch 16’s Ryan Leckey took a bite out of this topic to help those dealing with tooth pain caused by too much stress over the past few months.

While exercise and blowing off steam can help alleviate stress, for some, it's just not enough. 

The added pressures these days from virtual learning to working remotely is leading many to experience tension headaches. 

Dentists say one place to look for a potential fix could be inside your mouth.

Experts say the recent spike in teeth grinding is considered just some of the collateral damage from COVID-19, and maybe a little election stress spillover.

Countless people nationwide and in our area are dealing with sore mouths and broken teeth.

"Dentists are telling me that they are seeing a lot of patients with grinding and clenching their jaws problems. We call that bruxism," Dr. Quinn Dufurrena, United Concordia Chief Dental Officer, said.

Dr. Quinn Dufurrena knows just how widespread this growing health, or should we say mouth problem is. After all, he’s the chief dental officer for United Concordia, a national dental insurance company headquartered in Harrisburg.

"We probably communicate with over 120,000 dentists. So, I think we've got our finger on the pulse of what's going on in dentistry around the country," Dr. Quinn Dufurrena said.

For many, Dr. Quinn Dufurrena says the pain caused by grinding your teeth can lead to problems beyond a sore mouth.

"There's been a lot of people going in with tension headaches or temporal headaches."

Those tension-related headaches and teeth problems are something Dr. J.R. Karam, an orthodontist with four offices in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and his colleagues, are seeing more of during this pandemic.

"You can see that in patients of all ages," Dr. Karam said. 

Both dental professionals agree that most of the stress we take out on our teeth happens while we sleep, just grinding them away.

"as a dentist, what would be the red flags for somebody to say, 'hey, I think this is something to get looked at other than, oh, I think I just ate a hard pretzel last night'" Newswatch 16's Ryan Leckey asked. 

"If you're having pain in your jaw or it hurts when you bite on something on your tooth or even cold or hot, you really should see your dentist," Dr. Quinn Dufurrena said.

Dr. Karam echoed that: "these are all signs that grinding and clenching need to be addressed by a professional with either an occlusal guard or some type of treatment." 

So when considering one of those mouth guards many wear overnight, experts stress to get one made and fitted by a dentist since not all of them are created equal.

"The problem with some of the over-the-counter things is that it can make it worse. You can't just get an athletic guard and put it in your mouth and think the pain will go away," Dr. Quinn Dufurrena said.

Where to turn for free help

If you need to see a dental professional but are uninsured or underinsured free help is out there with this website! Once at the site, you can scroll to a city near you to find a dental clinic that could help.

Until you can get in to see a professional, dentists say just do whatever works for you to minimize stress. Dr. Karam has this advice for parents:

"Honestly, sleep. So we talk about these kids; they're on computers all day now, like my four children. I think a proper nighttime routine and things that you can do to help decrease stress before nighttime like winding down properly, proper exercise during the day, reducing screen time at nighttime (can help)."

Even if you’re not experiencing tooth pain? Dr. Karam says, "You need to see your dentist every six months."

Dr. Quinn Dufurrena added, "Ninety-nine percent of the dentists are back open. As dentists, we're used to dealing with infectious diseases." 

It’s a visit that could help you feel better and keep you smiling from ear to ear.

One final note: 

Dr. Quinn Dufurrena's company, United Concordia, was also a corporate sponsor of this past year’s WNEP's Ryan’s Run 11

RELATED: Where to find dental care during COVID-19 pandemic, even without insurance