The world is ending, ya know, and my kids can’t even go to daycare so I can work from home because no one is responsible and everyone is dying, including the polar bears.
Most days, I wake up with headaches that spread into my face. My jaw feels tight and painful to the touch. Last month, my headache came with tooth pain. Intermittently, I would have pain when eating or drinking hot and cold and sweet items.
I had put off my regular cleaning at the dentist because of COVID-19 and I was worried that I had yet another cavity to end a great year. Instead, the dentist said my teeth look worn. Those headaches I’ve been feeling, that tooth pain and sensitivity? I’ve been clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth at night in my sleep.
Because apparently, the stress doesn’t go away when I fall asleep. It just manifests other ways.
The professional term is bruxism and it can happen at night or during the day. You’re usually not doing it on purpose and it can be clenching or grinding the teeth. It is done usually during times of increased stress or anger or anxiety.
As parents we are already:
Running on lack of sleep
Alienated from peer groups
Under financial pressure to provide for more than ourselves
Not drinking enough water
Living on basically nonexistent self-care
Now add COVID:
Job instability and layoffs
Working from home alongside kids who no longer can go to daycare or school
Teaching and monitoring children as they participate in virtual learning
Risking exposure when going to the store and sometimes having to bring your children
Trying to get a child to wear a mask
Dealing with personal tragedy and death at an increased rate
Increased alienation from social groups and hobbies
Least $$ in stimulus money received than any other developed nation
Don’t forget 2020 also had:
An impending civil war and racial tension
A falling president and dangerous rise in extremist groups
Climate change wreaking havoc in the world with California and Australia are on fire, earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and locust swarms in Africa
In Ohio, we had more heatwaves and more rain, more algae blooms on Lake Erie and a rise in invasive tropical species, and less snowfall and lower farmland yields.
A tanking economy because of COVID
Just like the stress didn’t go away, neither did most of the 2020 issues. It’s pretty obvious why our bodies — as parents — are trying to relieve the stress that we don’t let our kids see.
A recent study confirmed what my dentist said: stress and anxiety associated with the constant threat of illness, economic concerns and social isolation could lead to adverse health effects like bruxism.
The study found that facial pain (caused by stress and anxiety) increased from about 35% pre-pandemic to 47% during. Jaw clenching during the day increased from about 17% to 32%.
Lastly, teeth grinding at night went from about 10% to 36%.
Dentists recommend using a nightguard. They cost between $10 – $15 and you can throw them in your Amazon or Walmart cart. I bought the Equate brand and it was easy enough to fit to my teeth. The real challenge is remembering to put it in before I fall asleep.
For jaw pain or TMJ, a COVID-safe chiropractor can alleviate some pressure.
According to Akron Children’s Hospital, kids can also grind their teeth during times of stress. It can wear down their enamel and cause the same kinds of pain as the parents.
So watch out for grinding noises during their sleep, facial pain especially in the morning, or pain when chewing.
Of course, see your doctor or dentist first. This is not meant as medical advice. I am not a medical professional.
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.