Recession is becoming a real grind
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TESS VIGELAND: Struggling your way through a recession is just about as pleasant as a root canal. And -- apparently -- just about as profitable for dentists.
Curt Nickisch of WBUR in Boston tells us the stresses of a bad economy are taking a toll. On our teeth.
Curt Nickisch: In the Boston suburb of Andover, Cathy Mazzuchi lives on Penni Lane.
The Beatles singing "Penny Lane": Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
And just like in the Beatles song, all seems peaceful at Mazzuchi's house. Inside, her two teenagers are reading. Outside, beneath the blue suburban skies, the birds are singing. But behind this idyllic picture, lurks a whole lot of stress. Those kids, Cathy Mazzuchi knows they're going to need college tuition in the next couple years.
Cathy Mazzuchi: And what savings we had or investments we had have just bottomed out. Not only do you have your expected education costs, but how are you going to save for your retirement when the stock market is such a mess and your investments are such a mess? It's a little bit hopeless.
Mazzuchi's a substitute teacher and schools are cutting back. Her husband works in sales, not exactly the best thing to be in when consumer spending is down.
Mazzuchi: So he has the stress of being the solitary breadwinner at this time. Just so much stress. And that's where he takes it out, is on his teeth.
He grinds his teeth and so does she. She always has, but this recession is making it worse.
Dr. David Samuels: The stitches are a lot easier coming out than going in. It only takes a few minutes and you'll be all set.
Mazzuchi recently visited her periodontist, David Samuels. Her teeth grinding had exposed part of the jawbone.
Samuels: It's literally like taking a forceps over many years and extracting a tooth. That's how much pressure that some people can put on their teeth at night.
Samuels says patients who take out stress on their teeth while they sleep is nothing new. But the recession is. And he can see its effects in some patients' x-rays.
Samuels: On these films that we're looking at right here, this area right on top of the tooth represents a fracture of the cusp of the tooth from clenching and grinding. So even on the x-rays you can see evidence, if you will, of increased stress in someone's life. And we do see more of that now than we used to.
About twice as much. Samuels is also the head of the Massachusetts Dental Association. Its 5,000 members report that business from stress-related tooth injuries has doubled. Fixing a cracked tooth can cost thousands of dollars. So Samuels recommends his teeth grinding patients get a protective bite guard.
Samuels: So this is a night guard that's about to be delivered. We use a very specialized lab in New Jersey for these.
Custom-fit bite guards can cost as much as $800. And even if you have dental insurance, they're usually not covered. The problem, Samuels says, is that if people need a bite guard, because they're stressed out over money, they probably can't afford one.
Glenn Bancroft: No, I'm not grinding my teeth.
That's Glenn Bancroft. He's not grinding his teeth because business is good. He runs a Massachusetts company that sells basic bite guards online for 10 bucks a piece.
Bancroft: And a lot of people just don't trust their dentist. They really don't.
Bancroft's statistics from Google tell him that 10 million people have searched for words like "bite guard" or "teeth grinding" over the last two months.
Bancroft: So they want to go for a cheaper option, they don't want to spend the 600 bucks.
People can also buy generic bite guards at a drugstore for around $20. But dentist David Samuels says people sleep sounder and get far better protection from form-fitted ones. Still, here's something the dentist and the low-cost retailer Bancroft both agree on: No matter what you pay for your bite guard, don't leave it lying around.
Bancroft: Believe it or not, the animals. The dog or the cat take them off the night stand, chew it up.
Put it in a drawer when you're not using it. A little money-saving tip for people who grind their teeth as the recession grinds along.
In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch, for Marketplace Money.