Collateral damage from COVID-19 includes cracked teeth from grinding

France Health Dentist
A dentist treats a patient April 13, 2017 in Quimper, western France. / AFP PHOTO / FRED TANNEAU (Photo credit should read FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Most folks would give their eye teeth if the novel coronavirus never had happened — not to mention another COVID-19 downside that could imperil chompers and cause other oral difficulties.

Dentist Dr. Christine Jones

“We’re starting to see some changes, with cracked teeth from clenching and grinding,” said Dr. Christine Jones of Coulee Family Dental in La Crosse. (Coulee
Family Dental photo)

The disease has resulted in stress fractures to teeth for nerve-wracked people and those anguished over extended shutdowns, dentists say, who also blame the pandemic for neglected oral care.
“We’re starting to see some changes, with cracked teeth from clenching and grinding,” said Dr. Christine Jones of Coulee Family Dental in La Crosse, who is a member of the Wisconsin Dental Association.
Such conditions, as well as jaw pain and soreness, are running above average among patients, Jones said in a phone interview.
Anecdotally, some dentists even have reported being “inundated” with such complications, said Jones, immediate past president of the La Crosse District Dental Society.
Stress arising from unfamiliarity with online learning appears to exacerbate the problem for teenagers, she said.
Cracked teeth usually can be fixed with simple fillings, while others require a crown and, in extreme cases, root canals might be required, Jones said.
“So far, we’re seeing a little more gingivitis or gum infection,” she said. “But at this point, a good cleaning can put them back on track.”
Such circumstances are occurring nationally, another in the ever-lengthening string of unexpected offshoots of the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting school lockdowns and job shutdowns, studying at and working from home and other lifestyle alterations.
Before COVID-19 turned life upside-down, “your day had a rhythm to it,” an American Dental Association spokesman told USA TODAY last month.
When that rhythm is knocked off kilter — many people confess that they spent much of the early days (and even now) in pajamas, since they didn’t have to dress for work — “simple little things like oral hygiene” fall by the wayside, Dr. Matthew Messina said.
Plus, with dental offices closed, most people had nowhere to go if a toothache or other bicuspid malady arose, although some offices were available for emergencies.
Nationally and locally, people who had problems when offices were shuttered were the first to call for appointments when offices opened.
Some hesitated, according to a survey that Guardian Life released in August. One in five adults has gone to a dentist during the pandemic, although 2 in 5 adults acknowledged having dental issues since March, the survey found.
What’s more, 1 in 4 still won’t be comfortable going to the dentist even by the end of the year, according to the survey.
“A certain number of people have been putting off” making appointments, but the percentage is small, Jones said.
“Most people want to get their teeth cleaned,” she said. “They are excited, and really happy, and we’re excited to see them.”
Dentists, already vigilant about controlling contamination, have redoubled their efforts, Jones said.
“Since COVID, there is more infection control,” she said.
Some dentists require patients to sit in their cars and notify the office when they arrive, as do some other businesses, including optometrists. The office notifies them to come in when they have sanitized everything after the previous patient leaves.
Dentists and hygienists are masked and gloved to the hilt to ward off any contaminations.
Even so, returning to practice “initially was stressful … but now that we’ve been doing it, and our office is pretty safe, so we’re not feeling as stressed,” Jones said.
Like most couples and families, Jones and her husband, Tony Saarem, whose job at Organic Valley has required him mostly to work at its headquarters, have adjusted their personal habits to avoid contracting the virus.
They generally have been homebodies when not working, said Jones, an Onalaska native who graduated from Onalaska High School in 2003.
“We’re both working not super high-risk jobs, but we’re pretty cautious, because we’d hate to bring it (the virus) to work,” Jones said.
One of Jones’ personal relaxations is volunteering at the Coulee Region Humane Society, for which she fosters cats.
“Kittens are cute — as long as they’re kittens,” she said, chuckling. “It’s fun work, seeing them come out of their shells.”
Another of the couple’s pastimes — game nights with friends — is on hold during this era of isolation, she said.
“We’ve done some Zoom game nights,” she said, adding, “but it’s not quite the same.”