SAN FRANCISCO -- Anger and stress pose at least as great a danger to teeth as sweets or poor brushing, says a California dentist.
Clenching and grinding of teeth, acknowledged by dentists as a major problem in our high-stress society, results in large part from 'hidden anger,' according to Dr. Bill Buran.
A practicing dentist in nearby Pacifica, Calif., Buran has spent years researching the problem and compiling statistical data to support his theories.
Roughly 80 percent of Buran's patients have manifested the problem to some degree, but children who learn to suppress or restrain natural aggressive emotions tend to become severe clenchers or grinders, he says.
'People who always have a smile on their face -- they're the ones that are holding it in,' says Buran, pointing to such public figures as the recently-crowned Miss America, Elizabeth Ward, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig as prominent examples.
Salesmen and television comedians are also prone to the disease, known to dentists as 'bruxism.' Don Rickles and Red Skelton are clinchers, he says, and the late Dan Blocker -- 'Hoss' of the Bonanza television series -- was a clencher and a grinder.
'He (Blocker) broke his teeth and chewed them apart,' says Buran.
The habit can lead to many problems including overbites, submerged molars, periodontal gum problems, joint pain and, ultimately, total tooth destruction.
Soreness of the jaws, neckaches, headaches and backaches are frequent complaints from sufferers of this common but largely untreated area of emotional and stress-related illness, he says.
Traditional dentistry considers bruxism the result of purely physical stress resulting from 'malocclusion,' or a bad bite.
'It's an old wives' tale that people who grind their teeth in their sleep have psychological problems,' says San Francisco dentist Gene McCoy. 'They just have uncomfortable teeth. The person tries to obtain relief by making successive adjustments of his jaw, and that is bruxing.
'The tooth grinder doesn't need to see a psychiatrist, but a dentist who recognizes the problem of overstress.'
Buran agrees the problem should be handled by dentists but says, 'Basically, we have two kinds of stress -- physiological and psychological.
'If you break your tooth, the break itself would be physiological stress. The emotional and psychological stress can develop later.'
Just as physical stress can develop from suppressed anger, psychological stress can be associated with hidden physical stresses, he says.
Buran says, 'the dentist of tomorrow must of necessity treat many symptoms that appear outside the oral cavity.'
To be truely effective, dentists must discover the 'social dynamics' of dentistry and learn to read the 'body language' that betrays underlying stress, he says.
Beads of sweat on the upper lip, for example, are a tip-off the patient is under stress. Facial structure is another easy tip-off, he says, noting that people create their own faces 'to a tremendous extent' by the degree to which they carry stress in their teeth.