Sept. 18, 2020 — Stella Acosta is one of those patients a dentist loves. Even with a busy schedule, she never missed her every-3-month dental cleaning, a schedule she and her dentist decided was best to prevent problems.
But that was before the pandemic. “I was due to go in when COVID hit,” says Acosta, 61, of Seal Beach, CA, a CPA who also teaches accounting at California State University, Fullerton. Then, in mid-March, the American Dental Association recommended dental offices close for all but emergency and urgent care, and that included Acosta’s dentist.
She was taking it all in stride — or so she thought — until her tooth grinding, which has been a minor issue, suddenly became major. “I noticed more pain in my jaw area,” she says. Then, one by one, as she was eating, three teeth cracked. “Two actually broke in half,” she says.
This week, she will see her dentist to start tooth repair and to get measured for a mouthguard to lessen the grinding, which can lead to cracked teeth.
While the American Dental Association hasn’t done a survey to verify an increase in dental problems since the pandemic started, reports of pandemic-related dental problems are common, and sales of mouthguards to prevent people from grinding their teeth are up.
“We can defer care for a while, but deferred care becomes critical care at some point. The bacteria don’t know there is a pandemic,” says Matthew Messina, DDS, a consumer advocate for the American Dental Association and an assistant professor of dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry, Columbus
A combination of delayed care and stress have led some dentists to see cracked teeth, sore jaws, and cavities, dentists say.
Stress can affect teeth, says Laurence Rifkin, DDS, a cosmetic and restorative dentist in Beverly Hills, CA, who treats Acosta. Rifkin says he’s noticed more of his patients coming in with cracked teeth in the past few months. More are also complaining of sore jaws, he says, perhaps from clenching or grinding.
New York prosthodontist Tammy Chen, DDS, wrote in TheNew York Times recently that she’s seen ”more tooth fractures in the last six weeks than in the previous six years.” On a bad day, she sees more than six patients with the problem, she writes.