State Department spokesman Hodding Carter III does it. The chairman of a large District of Columbia bank does it. Politicians, Capitol Hill secretaries, Cabinet officers, White House staffers, Georgetown matrons, Pentagon generals, diplomats and bureaucrats do it.

In fact, Washingtonians are grinding their teeth to the tune of thousands of dollars in dental bills each month as bruxism joins the litany of stress-related ailments in the nation's capital.

"Here in Washington, people reach the top of their professions," Dr. Daniel J. Deutsch said yesterday. "Everybody's just grinding away."

Teeth grinding, or bruxism as the medical journals refer to it, is usually associated with stress. The "bruxer" normally "bruxes" during the night and is not aware of the habit unless the grinding and clicking of molar on molar awakens his or her bed partner.

In that case, the "bruxer" is outfitted with a clear acrylic "night guard" similar to the protective retainer worn by boxers and other athletes. It prevents the teeth from grinding against one another and often relieves the symptoms associated with bruxism: morning headaches, soreness of the jaw, neck aches, ringing of the ears and dizziness.

"I make lots of night guards," said Deutsch, a 33-year-old Washington dentist. "I made one for a politician but he refused to wear it. I guess he thought it wasn't sexy."

The dentist also said he had made husband-and-wife night guards. "That way, they don't feel so funny. Can they kiss each other? Sure, all you have to do is pucker."

Deutsch estimated that 25 percent of his patients suffered from bruxism. "Lots of people do it," he said. "You either bite your nails, get ulcers or brux."

Although Hodding Carter's duties h ave become more nerve-wracking since the Iranian hostage crisis, the State Department spokeman said yesterday he's been "bruxing" for a long time.

"The stress pattern is there. It was going on way before Iran," he said, adding that he does not wear a night guard. "It's really not that bad. You don't hear them cracking in the night."

Although several area dentists say that the profession is becoming increasingly aware of the problem, the dental anguish itself is as old as the Egyptian scrolls.

"You talk about tention," said Dr. Alan L. Winner, a local bruxism specalist, "can you imagine having to build a pyramid? You can be sure they were grinding away."

Winner said Washington was a strong contender for the unofficial teeth grinding capital of the world, "although it would be tough to beat New York city."

The young downtown dentist, who often sees gold crowns completely ground down, devotes one-third of his practice to bruxism patients. "It's so common in this city," he said yesterday. "They take it [stress] out on their teeth."

Medically, explained Winner, teeth grinding is associated with a defect in the temporal mandibular joint that aligns the jaw. When the teeth are clenched, the top teeth do not line up correctly with the bottom teeth.

The "TMJ syndrome," Winner said, can be corrected two ways -- one with a night guard that fits over the entire upper teeth, and the other with a smaller, 24-hour plastic retainer that separates the molars.

"It's like a nonsurgical face lift," Winner said yesterday in his office near DuPont Circle. The TMJ appliance eliminates the stress, subjective or physical, and makes teeth grinding impossible.

"The patient doesn't realize he's doing it," said Winner, who normally outfits a half-dozen Washingtonians a week with the retainer.

"Income-tax time is coming, so we should be getting a little busier," he added. The cost of the plastic chopper stopper can run as high as $500.

How can you tell if you're a "bruxer"?

"I ask patients a few questions," Winner said. "Are their jaw muscles sore? Is there ringing in the ears, dizziness, headaches? If they put their little fingers in their ears and open and close their mouth, do they hear a clicking or popping in the jaw joint?"

If not corrected, dentists say, bruxing can eventually split a tooth, grind away expensive dental work, and damage muscular tissue.

"Some people have such severe symptoms, they can hardly open their mouths when they wake up," said Dr. Deutsch.

But Dr. Theodore Fields, a well-known Washington dentist, says he's seen too many patients who grind their teeth to blame simple stress as the cause.

"I've seen it in 3-year-old children," Fields said yesterday. "It might be a normal mechanism for keeping people asleep. I suspect it's a good release of emotional energy."

Another dentist, Dr. James L. Berge, corrects the symptom by grinding away high spots on the patient's back teeth. Berge also estimates that 20 to 30 percent of his patients are teeth grinders.

"It's one of the areas that's in vogue these days in dentistry," he said.

But with all the gnashing of teeth in the nation's capital these days, there's at least one official whose pearly whites are calm: President Jimmy Carter.

Capt. William Maastricht, the president's dentist at Bethesda Naval Hospsital, said yesterday, "President Carter is not a 'bruxer'."