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TEL AVIV, Israel: Since digital technology is so deeply rooted in our society, it would be hard to imagine a world without the internet. Whereas smartphones used to be a commodity, they have now become a necessity for most people, offering limitless opportunities and opening the door to the rest of the world. Ironically, when overused, smartphones can also socially isolate people. A new study has also found that excessive use of smartphones and social media may cause certain health problems, including bruxism and facial muscle pain.
The internet allows us to access the most hidden corners of the world, experience new cultures and stay connected with family and friends. During the pandemic, the internet was also instrumental in helping us maintain our oral health, as many dental practices offered teledentistry to patients who needed urgent care. It also helped dental professionals stay up-to-date with the latest technology and advancements by offering online education opportunities.
But what if not everyone is in favour of internet freedom and the dangers that come with it? Some religious groups, for example Haredi Jews, shun the use of the internet. In this, Haredi Jews are following the advice of their rabbis. For that reason, most members of the group, also often referred to as ultra-Orthodox Jews, use “kosher” smartphones, which offer only a limited selection of applications and do not include a browser so as not to expose the population to secularism or inappropriate content such as pornography, which is regarded as especially harmful to the younger generation.
The negative aspects of excessive smartphone usage
In a recent study, researchers from Tel Aviv University’s Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Dental Medicine examined smartphone use by a group of secular people, who tend to use their smartphones heavily in their daily lives, and smartphone use by ultra-Orthodox people, the majority of whom use kosher phones that do not include internet access. In total, the study involved 600 people aged 18 to 35. The researchers inquired into certain negative aspects that are associated with excessive use of a mobile phone, including anxiety, a tendency to wake up at night, the need to be available to the mobile phone, bruxism and jaw pain.
“We believe these symptoms are related to FOMO, fear of missing out,” said co-author Dr Pessia Friedman-Rubin, of Tel Aviv University’s dental school, in a press release. “People are constantly using their phones because they are worried they will miss something, and check WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps.”
“This creates a cycle of growing dependency on cell phones, which leads to feelings of stress and anxiety, and the feeling that someone might write something on social media and I’ll miss it and not be in the loop. In short, phones are actually causing many people stress, and we’re seeing physical manifestations of this.”
“Phones are actually causing many people stress, and we’re seeing physical manifestations of this”
— Dr Pessia Friedman-Rubin, Tel Aviv University
According to the findings, the researchers established a clear link between mobile phone dependency and bruxism and jaw pain, which are markers typically associated with stress and anxiety. The participants who use their phones to a lesser degree were found to have a better and less interrupted night’s sleep. Among those who tend to use their phones regularly, 45% were found to have a moderate-to-high need to constantly have their phones available, and some 50% felt that their phone causes them a moderate-to-high level of stress. Among kosher phone users, only 22% felt the need to be available and only 20% thought that their device causes feelings of stress.
Excessive phone usage was also found to pose oral health problems. Some 24% of regular smartphone users reported that they were grinding their teeth during the day, and 21% experienced bruxism at night. In comparison, only 6% of the participants who used a kosher phone reported grinding their teeth during the day and 7.5% at night. Some 29% of people who have regular devices reported pain in their jaw muscles compared with 14% of the kosher phone users.
Finally, excessive mobile phone use was found to disturb sleep. More than half of regular smartphone users reported waking up at night, in comparison with only one-fifth of kosher phone users.
In light of the findings, the study authors suggested limiting phone usage to avoid adverse health effects. Friedman-Rubin was quoted as saying: “We are of course in favour of technological progress, but as with everything in life, the excessive use of smartphones can lead to negative symptoms.” She concluded by saying that the public ought to be aware of the adverse effects of excessive phone use both on the body and mind.
Editorial note: The study will be published in Quintessence International.