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Teeth Grinding, Workplace
Stress Go Hand in Hand

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who frequently grind their teeth are more likely to feel stressed out at work than those who don't clench their teeth, according to Finnish researchers. What's more, women are more likely than men to say that they grind their teeth and that their jobs are stressful, they report.

"We're an uptight and fast-run society," said Dr. Richard Price, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. In an interview with Reuters Health, Price said tooth grinding is something that worsens as society becomes more stressful in general.

In the study, researchers gave questionnaires to more than 1,300 managers, journalists, technicians, researchers, administrators, and maintenance employees at the Finnish Broadcasting Company. The respondents had to decide if they never, seldom, sometimes, often or continually found themselves grinding their teeth, and they were asked to rate their stress on a scale of one to five.

Women and employees who reported the highest levels of stress were more likely to be teeth grinders than men or their colleagues whose jobs were less stressful, according to the study in the December issue of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. Overall, 26% of women said they ground their teeth at least some of the time, compared with 17% of men. Nearly 4% of women and 1% of men said they ground their teeth continually.

The amount of tooth grinding did not vary according to occupation, but employees who reported higher levels of stress were much more likely to grind their teeth. Both stress and tooth grinding were more common in female employees, regardless of age. These employees also spent more time at their doctors' or dentists' offices.

The researchers note that tooth grinding may be even more common than the survey suggests, given that many people grind their teeth or clench their jaws while they're sleeping.

Symptoms of tooth grinding include a dull headache or sore jaw, and can be confused with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, which is pain and discomfort associated with the joint that hinges the lower jaw. "TMJ problems are the great masquerade," said Price.

With frequent grinding the teeth will often become smoother and the grooves less defined, but most people won't notice the change, Price said. "It probably happens so gradually over time that it appears normal," he said.

Severe cases of tooth grinding can lead to painful gums and eventually loosened or fractured teeth. Many dentists will fit patients for mouth guards that they can wear to bed to protect their teeth.

The best advice for tooth grinders is to get a grip on their stress, not their teeth, according to Price. He suggests that patients find ways to relax, such as physical therapy or exercise to reduce tension. When necessary, muscle relaxants can be prescribed, but often a hot shower or over-the-counter pain reliever can be enough to stop the pain, said Price.

"It can be a temporary thing--when patients come in you have to ask them if they're going through a stressful time," said Price. "Usually if we make them aware of it they can stop."

SOURCE: Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology 2002;30:405-408.


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