Election Day is here — finally.
To say 2020 has been a stressful year is one of those “well duh” statements that won’t send you running for your most trusted fact-checker for confirmation.
This campaign season, which began long before the start of this most unusual year, has brought much jaw clenching with the seemingly endless political rhetoric.
Combine that with the doomsday drumbeat accompanying the coronavirus pandemic, racial strife, hurricanes, juggling work while homeschooling children, job losses and economic uncertainty, and many are knowingly or unknowingly grinding their teeth.
The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute reported in September that a poll of dentists nationwide found that a majority “have seen increases in stress-related oral health conditions since the onset of the pandemic.”
Jeffrey Johnston, the chief science officer for North Carolina for the insurer Delta Dental, said it’s “no surprise” there’s been an uptick in people grinding their teeth.
“Anytime that you have any kind of stress, especially economic stress, especially pandemic and economic stress, we know that people who are under more stress tend to grind their teeth more,” Johnston said. “When you grind your teeth more, you end up breaking more fillings and breaking more teeth, and having more TMD problems, that’s pain in front of your ears, that kind of stuff.”
Johnston said he’s hearing about it from his colleagues too, and it’s popping up in the literature.
Dentists reported seeing a 59.4 percent increase in bruxism, or an unconscious grinding of the teeth, typically while asleep, that can lead to headaches, earaches, pain in jaw joints, cracks, fractures or erosion of the teeth.
Justin Russo, who has a general and cosmetic dentistry practice in Raleigh, has seen so many more problems from patients clenching their jaws and grinding their teeth that he has added an endodontist, who can help with related root canals, and a periodontist to assist with the increased need for dental implants.
“People are grinding their teeth more,” Russo said this week.
What precisely is behind the behavior is not something Russo has investigated too deeply with his patients. They’re not sitting in a dentist’s chair to talk about the stress in their lives. After all, his hands are in their mouths and a therapist might be better trained for that discussion.
During REM sleep, Russo said, 90 percent of the people grind and clench their teeth some. He speculates that pandemic stress is at the root of the increase in cracked and loosened teeth that he has been seeing in recent months.
It also could be because some people are home and snacking more instead of eating well-balanced, nutritious meals.
Add in the stress from the political season, he said, and that’s akin “to the cherry on top of the sundae.”
Though it’s Election Day and results from one of the most divisive elections in many years could be known soon, there could be some teeth clenching in the days and weeks ahead.
Political analysts have offered many post-election scenarios, raising the possibility of more rhetoric about ballot counting and any court challenges about the electoral process.
Presidential elections are often a source of stress, according to a recent Harris Poll done for the American Psychological Association. The 2020 election is a greater source of significant stress for Americans than the 2016 election, the poll found, with 68 percent of Americans surveyed acknowledging as much compared to the 52 percent in 2016.
Whatever the source of stress, dentists are dealing with the fallout.
Johnston said Delta Dental hasn’t analyzed their data yet to see if more crowns have been placed in the past few months, but he did say that procedure has been on the rise.
“Dentists are busy out there. And they’re busy turning drills, not just doing cleaning. So I bet if we look back a year from now, we’ll see more crowns being done because of this,” he said. “There’s no question in my mind about it.”
Implants and root canals can be pricey even if dental insurance covers part of the cost, Russo added.
“Dental insurance is not all that,” he said.
“Out of the last 10 years, I’ve never seen more grumpy people than I’ve seen lately,” Russo said.
Rose Hoban contributed to this report.