Teeth-grinding and jaw-clenchin during the pandemic

A study of people in Israel and Poland showed that during the pandemic, many suffered stress-related facial and jaw pain.

Teeth-grinding

Stress from the pandemic of COVID-19 can manifest in a number of ways, including orofacial and jaw pain, which are products of daytime jaw-clenching and night teeth-grinding.

Experts classify such activities collectively as temporomandibular disorders (TMD), though bruxism is also known as teeth-grinding.

A research from Israel’s Tel Aviv University (TAU) shows that there was a substantial increase in TMD incidence during the first lockdowns in Israel and Poland.

The research appears in the Clinical Medicine Journal. The lead authors are Alona Emodi-Perlman and Ilana Eli of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine’s Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine, who say:

“A significant increase in symptoms of jaw and facial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth-grinding, well-known manifestations of anxiety and emotional distress, was found in our study conducted during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The total lockdown in Israel started on March 19, 2020, and between April 16 and May 20, 2020, researchers collected data from the country for the study. On March 31, Poland’s systematic lockdown began, with scientists collecting data from April 29 to May 3.

In general, the study questionnaire was completed by 700 people in Israel and 1,092 persons in Poland.

General findings

The study found that the effect was greater in Poland than in Israel, with a 34 percent increase in the incidence of TMD symptoms during lockdown recorded by respondents. In Israel, the increase was 15 percent, while within Israel, scientists also found:

  • The incidence of TMD symptoms increased from prior levels of roughly 35% to 47% of participants during the lockdown.
  • People who already had TMD before the pandemic found its severity increased by about 15%.
  • Bruxism increased from 10% to 25%. In a breakdown, jaw-clenching went from 17% to 32%, while teeth grinding rose from 10% to 36%.

There was a link between a higher occurrence of TMD and people experiencing higher levels of stress, the researchers reported.

A more granular look

The study found that there was a greater impact of pandemic stress on women, who showed a greater increase in TMD than men.

To explore age-related disparities, the researchers also divided the study participants into three age classes, 18-34, 35-55, and over 56.

Participants in Poland showed significantly more TMD symptoms in the first two age groups than people from Israel. The chances of them experiencing an increase in symptoms were higher by several hundred percent.

Overall, however the researchers found that individuals in the middle category were the most likely to experience a rise in TMD in both countries.

Women aged 35-55 were the most deeply affected category overall.

48 percent of this population showed signs of TMD, 46 percent reported clenching their jaws when they were awake, and 50 percent reported grinding their teeth at night.

The study’s authors tell Tel Aviv University News:

“We believe that our findings reflect the distress felt by the middle generation, who were cooped up at home with young children, without the usual help from grandparents, while also worrying about their elderly parents, facing financial problems and often required to work from home under trying conditions.”

Stressful times

“Apparently, anxiety, depression, and personal concerns evoked by the coronavirus pandemic increased the prevalence of TMD and bruxism,” the researchers report.

They note that “uncertainty and concerns about the present and future were common and inevitable” with constantly changing circumstances and ongoing concerns about coronavirus. The study reports that home confinement, unemployment, and a steady stream of “apocalyptic news” have further compounded this anxiety.

The authors conclude that little uncertainty is left in their study:

“The deterioration of the psychoemotional status caused by the pandemic of the coronavirus can lead to bruxism and intensification of the symptoms of TMD, leading to increased orofacial pain.”

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