When stress builds for Terri Hart-Ellis, she subconsciously clenches her teeth like an angry cartoon character.
“My jaws tighten. I bite down hard, and my eyebrows flare,” Hart-Ellis said. “Most of the time, I’m not even aware of it.”
But all that biting and clenching has taken a toll: She chipped a molar in May and last month pulled off a crown.
Hart-Ellis, 53, is hardly alone: During this year of pandemic stress, the American Dental Association says that dental health is a casualty. An ADA survey found more than 70% of dentists report an increase in patients with teeth grinding and clenching problems — conditions often associated with stress.
“The number of chipped and cracked teeth started to pick up as people’s stress level picked up,” said Dr Paul Levine of Levine Dental Associates in Milwaukee.
Much of the stress and worry in Hart-Ellis’ life stemmed from all the past year’s unknowns: Businesses shutting down. Kids being sent home from school. Stay-at-home orders. COVID cases by the thousands. Deaths.
“It was overwhelming. Like most people, I was scared,” she said.
Her oldest daughter, Catriona, 21, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, had to move back home when the campus shut down. Her youngest daughter, Addison, 17, has a rare disease called Rubinstein Taybi Syndrome and has been learning remotely at home, a task made more difficult because she’s nonverbal.