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Seattle dentist says COVID-19 stress likely related to surge in teeth grinding

Seattle dentists are busy treating patients for nighttime teeth grinding, which is linked to an increase in stress.

Does your face hurt when you wake up? Maybe you're even experiencing migraines and jaw pain. If so, you're not alone. Dentists are noticing more patients grinding their teeth – and they say it's likely related to stress. 

It's been a jaw-clenching year, from dealing with a global pandemic, a racial reckoning, politics and financial issues. It seems our bodies are absorbing it all and some of that stress is showing up on our teeth. 

”I think we know there's this whole mental health crisis because of COVID, and these kinds of jaw muscle and other problems, those are known to be related to psychological distress,” said Dr. Mark Drangsholt, Chair of Oral Medicine at the University of Washington. 

A September American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute poll found that 59% of dentists reported seeing an increase in teeth grinding and clenching, also known as bruxism. 

Drangsholt said dental clinics at the University of Washington are busy. Dentists are treating teeth grinding patients daily, many of them suffering from migraines, soreness of the jaw and sometimes even a cracked tooth. 

”It's at least double to triple. Our clinical volume is also doubled than what it was last year, and there's still more either people waiting,” said Drangsholt.

He said a lot of the damage happens when people are asleep, "So right now, if you clench as hard as you can, you can double and triple that in the middle of the night."

Drangsholt asks his clients to explain where they're feeling pain, most often it's in the temples, the back of the neck, and the jawline. In some cases, the situation turns into chronic pain, if left untreated. 

"It can really be much worse than I think people realize,” said Drangsholt.

So what's the solution? Dentists suggest self-care, like meditating and yoga. 

Experts also suggest visiting a dentist to receive a treatment to relax your jaw muscles. 

Botox is sometimes used as a more expensive option. 

RELATED: Lynnwood dentist says stress of COVID is grinding on patients, but routine care remains vital