How are Americans dealing with these difficult economic times? They’re taking the stress out on their teeth, if you ask dentists. The Chicago Dental Society recently surveyed more than 250 of its members to see if stressing about the economy was wreaking havoc on patients’ oral health.
Nearly 75 percent of dentists surveyed said their patients reported increased stress in their lives. And 65 percent of dentists said they have seen an increase in jaw clenching and teeth grinding among their patients.
Jaw clenching and teeth grinding, or bruxism, can be a temporary nuisance during stressful times that causes headaches and sleep problems, but it also can cause lasting problems for teeth and gums. It can lead to muscle inflammation, broken teeth or even damaged dental work, such as crowns and fillings.
The following tips should help your patients cope with the pressures of the world—before their teeth pay the price:
- Take a pain reliever. If grinding and clenching is causing you headaches and muscle soreness in your jaw, take an anti-inflammatory medication, like Advil or Aleve, shortly before bedtime.
- Massage. Try massaging the muscles along your jaw line, from the joint near your ear all the way to your chin to relieve jaw soreness.
- Avoid caffeine. Coffee may help you get going in the morning, but caffeine combined with stress can lead to increased muscle tension. Increase your consumption of water. If cutting caffeine completely from your life won’t work for you, at least try to avoid it within several hours of bedtime.
- Be careful with your diet. When the jaw muscles get inflamed, it’s best to go easy on them for a while by avoiding foods that require vigorous chewing. Ice and gum chewing are a definite no-no. And don’t even think about that triple-decker cheeseburger that almost requires you unhinge your jaw to eat it.
- Exercise. You didn’t want to hear this one did you? But exercise relieves stress and reduces anxiety, the two biggest culprits of grinding.
- Meditate. Try a yoga class to achieve some relaxation. Even taking a moment before bedtime to do some deep breathing can be a big help.
- Wear a mouth guard. If you have serious grinding and clenching issues, talk to your dentist about a mouth guard to wear at night.
The survey was conducted before the Chicago Dental Society’s 145thannual Midwinter Meeting, which brought more than 30,000 dental professionals to Chicago in February.
Written by Keri Kramer, Chicago Dental Society; Edited by Fred Michmershuizen, DTA