Watch Your Mouth: Grinders on the Rise

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KINSLEY: Think of it like car gears that fit together and they're not meshing properly. And the gear prongs are wearing down. The car still runs and it may still move but parts are wearing down and our teeth can be the same way.

Dr. John Kinsley has a dental practice in Rocky River. He says the list of problems associated with teeth grinding is long.

KINSLEY: Grinding can lead to tooth wear, which can lead to tooth sensitivity, tooth fracture, root canal problems and damage, loosening of teeth, bone loss in the presence of plaque where the gum and the bone starts to recede away and now as we're losing that bony support around the teeth and we start to rub on the tooth we start to wiggle and loosen our teeth.

Normally, we put 20-40 pounds of pressure on our teeth when eating but the pressure from grinding can increase up to 250 pounds. As one dental professor at Tufts University put it, that's like having a large football player scrimmage in your mouth every night. That would explain the headaches, jaw pain, bone loss, damaged teeth. Dr. Kinsley says there are other tell tale signs as well.

KINSLEY: When we can't see the enamel on the top of the tooth and it's starting to wear off and we see the next layer of tooth, which is called dentin or dentine, there's no doubt that there's something abrading usually that's two surfaces rubbing together two teeth rubbing against each other.

Abrading as in wearing down. The grinding can even wear down teeth to gum level or loosen them so much they fall out.

An amazing thing about teeth grinding is that no one really knows what causes it and remedies range from the very simple to the exotic. Suspected causes include…crooked teeth, a vitamin deficiency, anti-depressant medication, caffeine and stress, including …it appears…economic stress. Over the last couple years or so, dentists including Dr. Carol Ricci in Medina have started to notice the worse the economy got, the number of patients in need of tooth repair boomed. Ricci thinks that's more than a coincidence.

RICCI: A tremendous amount of people do it. Every day we see quite a few people that do it. I think people are we're so busy right now, everybody is stressed. You can do all the relaxation things, yoga is one, progressive relaxation is another. There's a lot of different things you can do- have a glass of wine!

Another curious thing, some grinders aren't even aware they do it. John Utrata of Cleveland didn't realize it until his dentist asked him how long he had been a grinder. His is a classic example of what is likely stress-induced grinding.

UTRATA: I was the main care taker for my mother who had stroke related dementia -- she just passed a few years ago and since then I have been looking for work and not finding it except for part time jobs. So it's been a tough time paying bills and getting back into the swing of things.

Grinding usually takes place when people are sleeping and unaware; often grinders don't figure it out until they are well into suffering from loose teeth, severe headaches, or their jaw is out of alignment. That's what happened to Kris Eisenzimmer from Stow.

EISENZIMMER: I would wake up and have jaw pain in the morning and it was just to the point where I couldn't even open my mouth and I couldn't eat my breakfast because it was hurting that much to open my mouth wide.

So what can be done about it? A simple mouthguard can offer protection from clenched teeth…sometimes though a custom-made mouthpiece is needed. There's a big difference in price…from as little as $25 for the generic to nearly $1,000 for a custom fitted piece. Other treatments that have been used include botox, acupuncture, exercise, meditation, hypnotherapy and avoidance of habits like chewing on pencils or biting fingernails.

John Utrata bought an inexpensive mouthguard at a local pharmacy while Kris Eisenzimmer uses a custom fitted appliance. Both said after a few days they barely noticed it...or the grinding. Kathryn Baker 90.3

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