How the recession is making one health problem worse

(NBC) - Life's daily grind can turn into a nightly one that people often don't know about until they go to the dentist. And dentists everywhere say they're seeing cases of teeth-grinding more than ever before as the recession not only wears people down but their teeth as well.

17-year-old Bobby McGrowsky has popped a mouthguard into his mouth every night since age 13. While his teeth grinding may have a genetic component, the worries of high school and of getting into a good college can be stressful.

Still, 13 is an early start for a nightly grind that can last a lifetime. But it no longer surprises dentist Dr. Alice Boghosian.

"In the past five to seven years, I've seen an increase in young adults and more wear marks on their teeth," said Dr. Boghosian.

26-year-old Paul Rozanski says he didn't even know he was grinding his teeth until he flashed a grin one day and a friend who also works in a dental office pointed out his clenched jaw and worn down teeth. She suggested he see her boss.

"The jaw can start popping and clicking and you can have a lot of pain associated with grinding," Dr. Boghosian said. "Does that mean everybody who grinds their teeth have pain? No."

Paul wasn't in pain but now that he knows about the practice, he says he sees it in the mirror.

"When you smile you can just tell that they're being worn out," said Paul.

But it makes sense to him. Life hasn't been easy lately.

"Our state of the economy isn't very good right now so I just worry what happens if I lose my job," Paul said.

Since the recession began, dentists everywhere say teeth grinding has been on the rise. A Chicago Dental Society survey found that 65% saw an increase in the problem and three quarters of the dentists surveyed say their patients have complained of increased stress.

Grinding doesn't just happen at night. You could be driving, tackling a to-do list at your desk or even walking down the street. Many people do it throughout the day and don't realize it for years.

"It's not something I realized until I felt some pretty excruciating pain in my jaw," said Agata Twardowska, a dental receptionist.

Surprisingly, Agata called the doctor who couldn't figure it out. Finally she tried a mouthguard at night and that was it. And now she also keeps it in mind when she's awake.

"I've consciously been stopping myself during the day from clenching," Agata said.

Dentists say for many that's the first step and an important one because if grinding goes on for too long, it can do real damage to the teeth.

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