I’ve been clenching my jaw since early March. The inclination to forcefully fuse my teeth together into a vice grip in times of elevated stress or anxiety is not exactly a new behavior for me (just ask my dentist). But 2020’s extreme, well, everything, has driven that tendency into overdrive. And with every doom scroll through Twitter I clench that much more. Apparently—and, perhaps unsurprisingly—I’m not alone.
“Virtually everyone I know, from clients to family and friends, is experiencing escalated jaw clenching this year,” Sandra Chiu, LAc, my longtime acupuncturist and the owner of Brooklyn’s Lanshin Clinic confirms of the common response to profound and/or prolonged stress and anxiety. Aesthetic dentist Michael Apa, D.D.S also reports a significant uptick in jaw tension among his clients. “This level of stress, categorically, is something we’ve never seen before,” says Apa, noting that the most obvious place for the negative results of sustained jaw clenching to manifest themselves is, of course, your teeth. Apa explains that everything from swollen gums to more complex problems like tooth loss can be a direct result of clenching, which, he points out, is different from grinding. “People who clench squeeze their jaw together and put a lot of pressure on their teeth while grinding is more of a side-to-side motion where you typically have things like chips and wear,” he says. “They are both triggered by the same thing: people just take stress out differently on their teeth.” But clenching can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the teeth you’re clamping down.