The economy is bad. Unemployment is high. Real estate values are low… It’s a stressful time for many — if not most — families in America right now. But who’s taking the worst of it? Who — or what — is the biggest punching bag for all our stress? It’s possibly our teeth.
In a recent New York Times article (When Stress Takes a Toll on Your Teeth, By Camille Sweeney, October 7, 2009), Manhattan dentist Dr. Robert Rawdin, reported to have seen “20 to 25 percent more patients with teeth grinding symptoms in the last year. And in San Diego, Dr. Gerald McCracken said that over the last 18 months his number of cases had more than doubled.”
“We’re finding in a lot of double-income families, we have the people who have lost jobs and are worried, and then we have the spouse, who still has the job, with the added pressure and uncertainty,” Dr. McCracken said. “This can cause some real grinding at night.”
Teeth grinding — or Bruxism — is an unconscious act, so most people don’t know they grind their teeth. In fact, most grinders are night grinders, rubbing away at their teeth as they sleep. The only way to distinguish what’s going on is symptomatic. Jaw and facial pain, headaches and earaches are some of the most commonly reported. Perhaps the most damaging affect, however, is the physical wear on the teeth.
Teeth grinders can exert as much as 10 times the amount of pressure on their teeth when the are sleeping as they do when they are eating. Not coincidentally, they can also wear away the enamel on their teeth 10 times faster. Since we only get one set of “adult” teeth that are expected to last us a lifetime, the long term affects of severe tooth wear can be devastating.
So what’s the solution? On the high-end is veneers. Expensive, veneers can repair the look and functionality of your teeth. Unfortunately, veneers won’t help solve the root problem: you’ll still grind your teeth. The most common solution is an occlusal splint, or night guard.
Custom night guards can not only help stop the grinding, they can actually help train the muscles to stop the grinding motion altogether for some patients, eliminating the long term need for the guard. Night guards are not all the same. We fabricate guards the fit the lower teeth and are adjusted to the proper bite alignment.
While inexpensive night guards are available over the counter, many are made of soft plastics that can actually increase the chewing and grinding action, compounding the problem. That’s right, run of the mill guards can make things worse!
Stress can affect us all in different ways, but one of the more common manifestations is the grinding of our teeth. If your teeth show wear in your molars or anywhere else — whether you’re stressed or not — or if you’re getting frequent facial pain or headaches, see a dentist. While over the counter and prescription pain medications can alleviate the pain, they will do nothing to solve the problem, which may well be rooted in your teeth.