The Daily Grind

Stress causing more Americans to grind their teeth

Between career, family and her personal life, 45-year-old Lori Shinton said she has a lot on her mind.

"My jaw would get very tense," she said.

So tense, it started causing her pain.

"I was having headaches and earaches and I was like, why am I having an earache, I'm not sick," she said. "I opened my mouth one day. I just yawned and I couldn't close my teeth properly."

All that worry was causing Shinton to grind her teeth in her sleep. The problem had gotten so bad that it re-aligned her jaw, requiring her dentist to move it back into place.
Teeth grinding or bruxism is a problem suffered by millions of Americans, especially right here in D.C. home to plenty of overworked, type A personalities.

"Here in D.C. where the stress level is high, people are on tight schedules, billable hours, people are always pulled in 20 directions, watching the clock all the time," said Dentist Dr. Sally Cram. "Those are people who are going to be more stressed, tend to see a little more tension grinding and the associated symptoms."

Those symptoms can be painful. They include things like headaches, earaches, damaged teeth and problems opening and closing your mouth. Cram said it's the result of tensing the muscles in your jaw, neck and shoulders during the day.

"You don't realize it, but these two muscles, you're contracting, clenching, clenching,  when you to bed at night, they're in spasm and when they're contracting uncontrolably and that's what makes your teeth come together," Cram said.

It not only causes pain, but it wears away the enamel on the teeth. Crams said the best prevention is a specially fitted night guard, a thin plastic device that covers the teeth and puts a few millimeters of space between the upper and lower jaw. This allows muscles to relax.

It's hard to say how widespread teeth grinding is. Studies have shown anywhere from 5 to 95 percent of people are gnashing their teeth during the night. Cram said recent economic turmoil, may be adding to problem.

"When I look at my 401k, that causes me to clench and grind," she said. "But anything that causes you stress and tension, sure it has the potential to add to the problem."

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