On this day at Dr. Ed Kendrick’s Independence Avenue office, one of his countertops is lined with mouth mannequins – manufactured models of human gums and teeth – utilized by dental assistants throughout the state of Missouri to test their competency at filling cavities.
At least a dozen of the models reside on the counter; Kendrick has been charged with grading the mannequins on behalf of the Missouri Dental Association. This month marks 44 years that Dr. Ed Kendrick has been practicing, and he has developed a strong reputation in the field of dentistry. He’s seen it all, and one conundrum is that patients subconsciously choose to clench and grind their teeth. “It’s ‘body language’ much as a frown can indicate inner upsets. When people can ‘hear’ their inner talk about upsets which coordinate with clenching/grinding, we have most of the challenge handled.”
Kendrick says that sometimes, the answer to the woes of his patients must be found from within – by solving their internal relationship with stress.
“Someone who’s had a great deal of stress in their life may have shortened their teeth through grinding,” said Kendrick. “Stress, and ruminating about one’s problems, can result in tooth wear.”
Sometimes, Kendrick says, that stress can be the direct result of financial concerns – even those related to trips to the dentist’s office. That’s when he leans on psychology (yes, psychology) to solve their ills.
“They come to me because they’re having tooth pain and jaw pain from grinding their teeth, and I tell them it’s going to be $400 to build them a splint that helps to keep them from grinding,” Kendrick says. “That charge of $400 further exacerbates their frustrations with finance.”
So what can one do to address that seemingly self-fulfilling prophecy? Dr. Kendrick is glad you asked.
“The conversation is often the cure – awakening someone to how their stresses manifest in their behavior may help them to solve their own problem by being more self-aware. Self-awareness is oftentimes the cure.”
In the past, Kendrick says that counseling sessions have occasionally proven even more effective than a mouth guard.
“I can build crowns, I can build bite guards, but if we don’t get to the underlying causes of the behavior of clenching and grinding, we’ve probably failed even when we make other repairs,” he said.
According to Kendrick, stress-related issues with teeth are becoming more common as the world continues to get more stressful. Stress can arise at any time, and for many reasons: when a student is studying for finals, when a pile of bills stacks up for a family, or when patients hold themselves to unreasonable standards with their smiles.
“Don’t lay the demand on me for a perfect smile, because I’m only human, too. Sometimes it’s not achievable. Refrigerator-white is seldom achievable,” Kendrick said. “I think we’re too hard on ourselves about our appearance. Some of our failures to achieve what appears on Vogue Magazine – or on the television ads – are not really failures of us as individuals, but failures of our society to give us an environment that nurtures us and acknowledges who we are as plain old folk.”
Kendrick remains amazed at the number of people who come into his office with great insecurities regarding their teeth. While he’s happy to help, he also encourages his patients to look within for the source of their insecurity and to let their personalities dictate that sense of self.
“There are so many beautiful people that come here, and they see their teeth as a flaw. But from one feet away looking in a mirror, that’s different than the rest of the world looks at you,” Kendrick said. “A beautiful smile also has behind it a glowing personality. It’s maybe better to spend time on that than to be so self-absorbed about the appearance of teeth.”
Kendrick maintains that he loves his clientele, and that he still enjoys the job of helping people feel better about their smiles. At the same time, he remains adamant that to him, the cosmetic side of the job is secondary.
“Basic disease control is the emphasis of this practice; health first, and pain control of course,” Kendrick said. “The frills come, but let’s establish a basis in health before we proceed into the cosmetic aspects.”