Everyone grinds their teeth or snores occasionally. But when tooth grinding becomes constant, it indicates deeper problems. Just like snoring, tooth grinding is a symptom of something else. It’s caused by a variety of factors and can be treated in several different ways.
Anxiety can lead to many physical repercussions. Anxiety and stress can interfere with sleep in several ways. Studies demonstrate that people undergoing stress at work are more likely to grind their teeth. Stress connects with our natural “fight-or-flight” response, and a nerve links the jaw to the part of the brain which governs that response.
If we’re constantly in “fight” mode, under chronic stress, this nervous connection can lead to jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding.
Some teeth grinding, or “bruxism,” during sleep seems to be connected to changes in sleep levels. Bruxism is associated with sleep stages 1 and 2—86% of episodes occur in these levels, generally involving lighter sleep. Only 7% of episodes take place during REM sleep, but those are frequently associated with facial and dental pain.
Teeth grinding may also relate to sleep disorders. Some research indicates that bruxism during sleep is strongly connected with sleep apnea. Tooth grinding is the body’s way to reopen a blocked airway—even fetuses in the womb do it. While long-term tooth-grinding can lead to tooth problems, it’s a more immediate symptom of a deeper problem.
Fixing Awake Bruxism
If you clench or grind your teeth while you’re awake, it’s most likely related to work or life-related stresses. Behavioral modification is frequently indicated. Habit reversal therapy, habit awareness, and relaxation techniques should help alleviate awake bruxism.
Fixing Sleeping Bruxism
A variety of techniques has been used in the treatment of sleeping bruxism. Some are more effective than others.
Given the limited effect many treatments have for sleeping bruxism, the best treatment for bruxism not connected to sleep apnea may be behavior modification coupled with tooth protection.
Teeth-grinding and Sleep Apnea
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may discover their apnea when their partner comments on snoring or tooth grinding. Roughly one-quarter of all patients with OSA demonstrate bruxism. There are some indications that men are more likely to grind their teeth than women. Some ethnic connections to bruxism also seem present.
Sleep apnea is caused when the muscles in the back of your throat relax during sleep. These muscles all support the tongue, soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and side walls of the throat. During this relaxation, the airway can narrow, or even close. A closed or narrowed airway prevents adequate breathing, and the oxygen level in your blood lowers.
Teeth grinding simply allows the airway to reopen. The unconscious brain reacts to the low oxygen levels in the blood. Snoring may also occur. Treatment for sleep apnea may reduce or eliminate sleeping bruxism.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Reducing the risk factors for sleep apnea can help reduce its incidence. Risk factors for OSA include
A patient can lessen symptoms by sleeping on their side.
For mild cases of OSA, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes. If allergies are connected to the OSA, treatment for the allergy may be indicated.
Oral appliances are frequently used by OSA patients. These devices help keep the throat open, either by bringing the jaw forward or by supporting the tongue. They do take some getting used to while sleeping but do help.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices provide effective relief. The device delivers air pressure through the nose, keeping the airway open. They do work but may be awkward or uncomfortable. They sometimes do not help eliminate snoring.
Tooth grinding is a symptom. It may indicate you are under stress. It may also indicate a serious sleeping disorder. If you think that sleep apnea may be your problem, you should see your physician.
Chief editor here at Snore Nation and a proud father of two cool boys. I am a reformed snorer, a reformed smoker, a reformed overeater, a reformed city dweller and a reformed workaholic stress monster on the mission to share my insider tips to restore that quality sleep for you and your partner!