Monday, April 12, 2010

Dentists see more teeth grinders

Gnashing attributed to economic anguish By Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • April 12, 2010 The daily grind can be painful — literally — for your teeth. Stress from overworking or even looking for a job can lead to teeth grinding, also called bruxism. And with the recession taking a toll on daily life, some dentists believe the sluggish economy could be catching up with their patients — in their mouths. "I've seen more cracked teeth in the last six months than I have ever seen, and I have been practicing for 40 years," said Dan Hixon, a dentist in Hermitage. "They include a lot of people who grind or clamp their teeth." Studies have already shown that stress can cause people to clench or grind their teeth. But recent evidence from the Chicago Dental Society suggests the economy has created a new group of grinders. The organization surveyed 250 dentists about stress and oral health, and 65 percent reported seeing increased teeth grinding in patients who admitted they were anxious over the economy. "It's a way of releasing stress, but they need to find something else to do to help their stress," Hixon said. Many people don't even know they grind their teeth. Then, they suddenly are plagued with jaw pain, find a cracked tooth or wake up with a headache. They may find out at a routine dental checkup that their subconscious nocturnal habit is wearing down teeth. East Nashville resident Neil Ward doesn't believe he was a grinder until he was laid off from his job as a graphic designer in May, or at least no dentist had mentioned it to him until recently. During a visit to the dentist a month ago, which he had to pay for out of pocket, he was told he probably grinds his teeth. Now, he notices when he does it during the day. "I clench my teeth, and usually it happens when I am looking at the online posting boards for jobs," Ward said. "The longer I go without work, I think I notice I am doing it much more." He pops a piece of gum in his mouth to interrupt the clenching, and he exercises to relieve stress and anxiety. If people don't cope with their stress, their grinding can get worse, according to a study released in March in Head and Face Medicine, an industry journal. Researchers found that people who suffered from high daily stress were more likely to grind their teeth. People can learn coping techniques to alleviate jaw tension and diminish grinding, and the Chicago Dental Society offered tips. Practices such as exercising, meditating and avoiding late-night caffeine can help prevent the problem. People who wake up with a sore jaw could take a pain reliever, massage their jaw muscles and eat softer foods that aren't hard to chew. If pain continues, the grinder could end up visiting a specialist such as Dr. Samuel McKenna, who practices oral surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. McKenna finds that a lot of his patients have sleep issues, sometimes caused by stress, and that may contribute to their grinding. He prescribes patients a small dose of an anti-depressant called Amitriptyline, which helps patients sleep better and relieves the grinding. "We see a lot of people with facial pain here, and bruxism is an important component for the facial pain we see," McKenna said. "When people clench and or grind their teeth, they overuse their chewing muscles. Stress certainly plays into it all." But his dentist told him if the grinding and clenching don't subside he could need a mouth guard, which is worn overnight, to prevent wearing down his teeth.

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