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Money concerns can lead to teeth grinding

Stress and anxiety can lead many people to become occasional toothgrinders. These days, dentists are increasingly concerned that the economic downturn may be exacerbating the problem.

In October, Dr. Steven Butensky of New York told the New York Times: "I'm seeing a lot more people that are anxious, stressed out and very concerned about their financial futures and they're taking it out on their teeth."

Added Dr. Gerald McCracken: "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. This can cause some real grinding at night."

Toothgrinding is known as "bruxism," a condition characterized by constant grinding or clenching of teeth during the day or while asleep. In addition to stress and anxiety, bruxism can be caused by sleep disorders, an abnormal bite or teeth that are missing or crooked.

Symptoms include a dull headache or a sore jaw. In severe cases, teeth may become fractured. Cracks in the teeth are often microscopic, but when they open the pulp inside the tooth becomes irritated. That irritation can lead to sensitivity — particularly to temperature extremes. There are also indications of a relationship between bruxism and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

About 10 to 15 percent of adults moderately to severely grind their teeth, said Dr. Matthew Messina, an American Dental Association consumer adviser. Genetics can play a factor in bruxism, he said, but stress is often a catalyst.

So what can occasional and frequent grinders do? The ADA recommends that concerned patients talk to their dentist, who can determine the extent of the problem and even fit them with a mouthguard to protect teeth during sleep.

If stress is the cause, relaxation techniques may be recommended, such as physical therapy, muscle relaxants, counseling and even exercise to help reduce tension.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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