In these stressful times, you’re either a grinder or a clencher. I’ve been the latter for some time now, and am so glad I got my mouthguard fitted before the coronavirus upended our lives.

When I wake in the morning or, as is more usual these days, am woken by a wide-eyed three-year-old telling me “The radio said coronavirus!”, my top and bottom rows of teeth are tightly clenched together like a manically grinning skeleton’s and it takes a certain physical effort to prize them apart.

I used to blame the Brexit bite, and then the climate change crunch, but even before Covid-19 reached our shores, Irish teeth were apparently bearing the brunt of a collective increase in anxiety, with dentists seeing a distinct rise in gnashing.

Bruxism, to use the suitably abrasive-sounding medical term, is back, after previously peaking here in the cruel aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. It’s no joke. The consequences of bruxism can be brutal and in worst-case scenarios can cause teeth to wear, crack or split.

Given that it may be caused, according to the Mayo Clinic in the US, by “emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger, frustration or tension”, there is certainly no quick-fix cure on the market at present. But I’m pleased to report that my relatively newly fitted mouthguard – a delightful addition to any bedside locker – has been one of my better investments.


Known, I believe, by cheeky young dental students as “passion-killers”, these mouthguards are meant primarily for nocturnal use and aim to prevent the ongoing damage that can be caused by grinding or clenching that usually occurs subconsciously during sleep.

Speaking of passion-killers, gurning before bedtime is also supposed to help break the enamel-eroding habit. For the sake of absolute clarity, I should say that by gurning I refer to the traditional British definition, as in the pulling of grotesque faces, usually by forcing the lower jaw to protrude as far as possible and covering the lower lip with the upper, rather than the unique Ulster variant, meaning to complain in a peevish manner. Perhaps both meanings work in this context, come to think of it.

Given the ongoing and incredible work of HSE employees during this crisis, I sometimes wonder will we emerge from this with the warm and fuzzy patriotic feelings about the previously unloved organisation that the British have for their NHS.

Anyway, for those suffering from stress-induced bruxism, our own HSE suggests a number of delightful ways to wind down before going to bed, including yoga, deep breathing and massage. If your household pre-bedtime routine allows for any or all that, now or at any time, well, I’m delighted for you.

It all depends on your stage of life, of course, but such a strong narrative about all of us apparently having so much extra time on our hands has taken hold that it feels like an admission of failure to raise a tentative paw and admit to feeling as overwhelmed as ever – perhaps even more so, given the extra dollops of dread we’re dealing with now.

You’ve got time to tackle Ulysses? Well, mozel tov, as you’ll no doubt be able to tell me Leopold Bloom never said in a few short weeks.

The Montessori Zoom

The thankless drudgery of commuting and making school lunches may have been put on ice for those of us in the so-called sandwich generation, looking after young children and missing parents and in-laws, while worrying about whether or not they are really cocooning compliantly.

The juggle has always been a struggle, but these new and astonishingly intensive roles of untrained teacher and haplessly ineffective almost full-time carer have really left me reeling. The to-do list has taken on a life of its own, seemingly expanding instead of contracting.

And now there’s a Montessori Zoom call looming for which I have to magic up five butterflies that I have to draw by hand because we haven’t got around to getting a printer at home, and then cut out and attach them to plastic spoons with staples because I don’t have any straws or glue.

As teeth clenching also takes place during daytime periods of deep concentration, at times like this, your mouthguard can become your friend. Before working from home became a thing, I wondered if there was as yet any recognised etiquette around wearing a mouthguard in the office, perhaps at particularly stressful times such as the approach of deadline.

Could colleagues cope with the sight? If your colleagues assemble in a locker room and you’re built like Rory Best, it’s probably not a problem, but in a more typical office environment there might be a few odd glances.

Now that it’s just me and my laptop at a hastily assembled desk on our cramped landing, I can wear my mouthguard all I like. I’m champing happily on my plastic bit and usually remembering to remove it before answering the phone.

Who knows what’s ahead for any of us? Let’s just use whatever coping mechanisms we have as we set our teeth against the fear.

Source: The Irish Times

Mary Minihan – The Irish Times

If you have symptoms of bruxism, or if you are told that you grind your teeth while you sleep, contact us today