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Stress can be a grinding experience for teeth (6/3/97)

"I would wake up in the morning and the side of my mouth would hurt so bad," said 28-year-old Melissa Gonzales. "The pain was so unbearable that I finally went to my dentist and that's when I found out about bruxism.''

Bruxism, the grinding and the clenching of teeth are common damaging habits. James Mellonig, DDS, professor, department of periodontics said, "In fact, 98% of the population clenches or grinds their teeth at one time or another. Some grind and clench only occasionally while others persist aggressively." Dr. Mellonig also added that these two conditions are usually brought on by a stressful situation like a divorce or a child leaving home.

Gonzales blames stress for her bruxism, which started six years ago. "I was putting in a lot of hours at work and the stress was overwhelming at times. I guess the way I dealt with it was to grind and clench my teeth,'' she said.

While many people who grind and clench their teeth never experience severe problems, there is a small percentage of people who do. "When you clench a lot, you can fracture a tooth or filling and when you brux, you grind your teeth to a sharp edge or wear them down to a nub," said Dr. Mellonig.

The good news is these two conditions can be treated effectively if the patient seeks early medical attention. "Ninety-five percent of the patients who see the dentist for bruxism or clenching can be treated with a bite guard," said Dr. Mellonig.

A bite guard or splint is a clear plastic appliance that fits over a patient's top or bottom teeth to establish harmony between the muscles and joints. It reduces bruxism by keeping the teeth apart, helps relax muscles and reduce pain. The bite guard also changes the jaw posture enough to stabilize some bite problems and reduce pressure in joints.

"I've been wearing my bite guard at night for three years and I don't have any muscle soreness, headaches or neck pain which is a great relief. Plus I'm not damaging my teeth anymore," said Gonzales. She said she's worn out two bite guards.

Sometimes the condition passes, sometimes not, according to Dr. Mellonig. But it requires treatment to minimize damage to the mouth and jaw, he says.

Many tend to believe that women grind their teeth more than men but according to Dr. Mellonig, women are more aware of it and will seek treatment more often than men.

Dr. Mellonig also adds, "The clenching and bruxism will usually go away when the stressful problem goes away. However, those patients with pre-existing periodontal disease need to take extra caution. Grinding can accelerate gum disease."

Contact: Myong Cover (210) 567-2570