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Pandemic Dentistry

Stress brings cracked teeth and TMJ.

by James Leonard

From the November, 2020 issue

When governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered dentists to close in March, they were still allowed to treat emergencies. James Olsen ended up seeing "probably four or five a week."

"Most of them were not my current patients," the thirty-one-year veteran recalls. "They were patients of other offices that couldn't get in touch with their dentist."

For three months Olsen worked alone. "No other staff could be in the office--it was just me doing dentistry by myself on patients, which is a slow process. We had to limit our procedures [to] get people out of pain or imminent danger."

When dentists were permitted to resume full practice in June, Olsen says, they faced "a tidal wave" of patients catching up on missed appointments. They also saw new problems: it turns out folks under tremendous stress break a lot of teeth.

People were "clenching their teeth more, and it continues to this day," says Olsen. Along with cracked teeth, that's causing a lot of temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ). "All of a sudden they now have symptoms such as headaches, a locked jaw that only opens partially, or pain in and around their ear," he explains in a follow-up email. "They could experience vertigo, tinnitus, and just generalized jaw muscle pain and fatigue."

There's no escaping the pandemic's stress, but at least its dental side effects are manageable. "After some treatment to address symptoms and the bite issues," Olsen says, "most patients feel better pretty quickly."     (end of article)

[Originally published in November, 2020.]


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