Recession Stress Gives Rise to Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding

Recession stress is apparently taking a big toll on the nation's teeth. Medical experts say the number of people who grind their teeth in their sleep has risen sharply since the downturn began.

There's been a huge rise in teeth grinding, and stress is the top reason that people grind and crunch their teeth, according to Dr. Nancy Rosen, who appeared on "Good Morning America" today. With so many people losing their jobs and their savings in the stock market, people have started grinding and clenching non-stop, she said.

Rosen said almost 50 percent of her dental patients have complained more since the recession hit.

The stress-induced clinching can lead to worn down teeth, as it did for a 25-year-old named Sophie, who is not Rosen's patient.

"I grind my teeth at night because of stress," said Sophie, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her privacy.

Dentists told ABCNews.com that they often see signs of bruxism, or teeth grinding, and treat the cracked teeth and jaw pain from people who clench their teeth too much.

Studies have found that between 5 percent and 12 percent of people suffer from facial pain, known as tempormandibular joint and muscle disorder, or TMJD, which is often caused by teeth grinding, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

Dr. Harold Menschel, whose Florida-based dental practice, called the TMJ & Facial Pain Institute, specializes in oral face pain, said that he's convinced that rising stress levels have increased the number of cracked teeth he mends.

"People today don't have cavities anymore, and we have gum disease under control," said Menschel. "People instead [are] losing their teeth by wearing them down and cracking their teeth. It's a huge problem."

Grinding Your Teeth Can Cause Earaches, Headaches and Jaw Pain

Rosen said most people are unaware that the earaches and headache pain they feel are related to grinding their teeth.

Those symptoms usually accompanied by an aching jaw muscle, Rosen said.

She said the jaw normally is sore and tender from all the clenching, causing some people to have extreme pain in the morning, and even have a hard time opening their mouths.

Tooth sensitivity is also something to watch out for, Rosen said, caused by the grinding of tooth on tooth.

The related muscles and joints in the face, said Menschel, are affected by the pressure produced by grinding teeth, often resulting in earaches and jaw pain.

"When you grind your teeth you're putting force on the system," said Menschel. "That can result in tooth pain and even headaches because they are all related to the nerve that governs the face."

At Dr. Kimberly Harms' private dental practice outside of Minneapolis, some of her baby boomer patients complain of symptoms that have resulted from a lifetime of grinding.

Stress, Harms said, is a "huge factor" of bruxism.

"From experience, when I had two teenage daughters at home I needed a high number of root canals," said Harms, who added that root canals are necessary when a cracked tooth -- in her case caused by grinding -- gets infected.

"Stress definitely causes bruxism to be more prominent," said Harms, who also acts as the American Dental Association's consumer adviser.

"I just had a patient who came in with a major crack say that she's been under a lot of stress," said Harms. "Patients recognize how stress causes them to grind."

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