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STRESS: The Daily Grind


The economic pressures in America are affecting millions of Americans, resulting in broken teeth, facial pain, and migraine headaches. Mixing pain and financial worry together has resulted in fewer people visiting the dentist for a brighter smile, however dentists are seeing a new phenomenon in their daily schedules: a rise in the number of teeth grinders.

“I’m seeing an increase in patients who are anxious, stressed out and very worried about their financial futures and they’re taking out their stresses on their teeth,” said Dr. Jason McCargar, a cosmetic dentist at Scottsdale Dental Arts. “These patients are all grinding their teeth as a response to what is going on in their lives.”

One patient of Scottsdale Dental Arts lost hundreds of thousands of dollars invested with Bernard L. Madoff. Another one of Dr. McCargar’s patients also informed the staff that he had lost his seven-figure salary due to a “budget cut.” The common thread seems to be as follows: Americans are working twice or three times as many hours as they previously did for about half of the income.

On average Dr. McCargar is seeing a 30 to 40 percent increase in patients reporting pain in their jaws, cheek muscles, and necks as a result of stress. And what is the cause of this stress? Welcome to the “new economy.”

People are having trouble just making ends meet. Families who previously relied on two incomes are now adjusting to just one income. And this trend seems to have no end in sight. Unfortunately, this financial strain can create an overwhelming amount of pressure and uncertainty for the spouse who had the sole job in the family. “Such a high level of responsibility to keep the family afloat can create a huge amount of stress on the sole bread winner.”

But don’t think that stressful times are the only times when patients grind their teeth. On average approximately 15 percent of people will grind their teeth no matter what kind of economic conditions they are experiencing.

Most people don’t realize that they are grinders until the symptoms of grinding lead to either a broken tooth, recurrent migraine headaches, or severe facial pain.
“Stress causes flight-or-fight hormones to be release in the body,” stated Dr. McCargar. “When the stress hormones are released by the brain, energy is mobilized which causes muscle activity. The greater the increase of hormones, the more intense the muscle activity will be,” stated the Scottsdale Cosmetic Dentist.
Repairing or rebuilding teeth that have been damaged by years of grinding can be a daunting process. If teeth have been only moderately damaged, composite fillings may be a treatment option. But extensive damage often requires full mouth reconstruction in order to repair the teeth. Some of these treatment options include full coverage crowns and porcelain veneers. Regardless of the treatment modality, there is one component that is a must for all grinders or “bruxism” patients: a night guard.

Some dental insurance companies do not view grinding as a true dental condition. Often times bruxism is classified as a condition that originates in the central nervous system. This “gray” area of classification can leave patients with no help from their insurance companies in paying for bruxism-related treatment and services.
Studies show that some night time grinders can spend upwards of 40 minutes per hour of sleep grinding their teeth. The constant wear and tear can quickly destroy the enamel (10 times faster than that of non-grinders), fracture teeth, change the overall bite, and damage both the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the masseter muscle, which controls the jaws. Jaw and face pain may also occur.
The first line of treatment for night time grinding is a custom-made night guard. Dr. McCargar can make various types of night guards for patients which can help to minimize or even stop grinding completely.

Night guards are readily made for patients by making an impression of the patient’s upper or lower teeth. Patients are advised to get acquainted with their night guard by wearing it gradually for a few hours before bed before attempting to wear it throughout the night. The cost of a custom made night guard may vary based upon the style of night guard that will best meet the patient’s needs.
Many patients tell Dr. McCargar that they notice a huge difference in their overall jaw comfort when they wear their night guard. One of his patients, Sarah, said, “My migraines immediately came back when I stopped wearing my night guard. I cannot imagine going to bed without my night guard now.”

“There is nothing that can compare to a night of good rest,” states Dr. McCargar.
The Scottsdale Cosmetic Dentist advises his patients to take some time before going to bed to simply relax and de-stress before rest. “Meditation, listening to soft music, and de-compressing before bed will help to set the mind in motion for a night of relaxing sleep.”

Scottsdale Dental Arts provides a complimentary consultation for patients who suffer from night time grinding. “We enjoy taking time with our patients to better understand their sleeping patterns. A night guard can make all the difference between a night of restless sleep and complete relaxation.”